Monday, March 25, 2013

"J" is for Journey Back to Oz

Editor's Note: If you somehow came across this review looking for something to show your children, I strongly advise you go elsewhere. This review is not safe for work, for home with families, or for most other purposes. Kind of like the terrible movie it's about.

 I would expect that many of you were thinking that this was the Cap'n misremembering the title Return to Oz, and that you might get a review of that nightmarish sequel. And trust me, I wish it had been to, but instead I'm stuck talking about this piece of shit.

 Unbearable isn't a term I throw around a lot when I talk about terrible movies. I just won't finish them if they're that bad, and it's not a long list of movies I haven't completed. Boy, I really struggled to get through 85 turgid minutes of this stinker, this colossal waste of space. If you're looking for a movie that gives the moniker The ABCs of Movie Masochism its due, Journey Back to Oz is it.

 There's nothing about this cheap tie-in to The Wizard of Oz worth recommending: the animation is cheap, the songs are god awful, the story is inane. Halfway through I was yelling at my TV, begging the characters to just shut up and get it over with, but no, there were more instantly forgettable tunes and cheap stunt casting designed purely to make me want to gouge my eyes out.

 Honestly, I'm amazed that this played in theatres, because the cast is a "who's who" of TV Variety show regulars: Paul Lynde plays Pumpkinhead, Danny Thomas plays The Tin Man, Milton Berle is the Cowardly Lion, Paul Ford is Uncle Henry, Herschel Bernaridi is Woodenhead Stallion III, Jack E. Leonard the Signpost, Mickey Rooney is the Scarecrow and lest I forget, Ethel Merman as Mombi, the new evil witch that's angry Dorothy killed her "cousin" from the West.

 After Dorothy and Toto are swept back to Oz in a cyclone, they go to meet the Scarecrow - now King of Oz - only to discover that Mombi is planning on attacking The Emerald City with her magical green elephants, which she then does, immediately after they arrive. Mombi takes Toto and the Scarecrow hostage and Dorothy tries to recruit help from the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, but instead they're to chickenshit and sing stupid songs and have dream sequences about being assaulted by magical green elephants. Dorothy eventually kind of gets help from Glinda the Good Witch (Rise Stevens), but more or less because she's give a box full of magic mice.

 I cannot stress how boring this movie is, how insipid and taxing on the patience of audiences, and how insulting it is to be a fan of The Wizard of Oz and know that THIS was how Filmation chose to honor the film's 35th Anniversary. It looks like a cheap, made for TV movie, and when it did play on TV they had the good decency to film live action segments with Bill Cosby as the Wizard.

 There are two bits of inspired casting in Journey Back to Oz: the first is Margaret Hamilton (The Wicked Witch of the West) providing a cameo as Aunt Em at the beginning. It's a nice touch and is a better way to honor her involvement than when she played the Wicked Witch again two years later in The Paul Lynde Halloween Special. The second, and arguably best, casting decision made was to bring in Liza Minelli to play Dorothy. When she's speaking, she does a spot-on impersonation of her mother in The Wizard of Oz. Their singing voices are different, so that's a dead give-away, but then again if you subject yourself to Journey Back to Oz, the fast forward button is going to be your new friend when someone starts singing.

 Out of courtesy, I'll also mention Mel Blanc, the voice of Mombi's crow, because he didn't make it into the main credits with the likes of Paul E. Leonard and Herschel Bernardi. It's not hard to pick out the voice of Bugs Bunny in a movie with otherwise unremarkable voice talent (seriously, how hard did they have to work to make Paul Lynde barely sound like Paul Lynde?).

 Under no circumstances would I ever recommend this to anyone, even if you wanted to punish your children for doing something terrible, horrible, no good, or very bad. This is too cruel even for them. It made me want to curse in a review, which over the years I've made a conscious effort to scale back. But for Pete's sake does this movie suck! Ah well, to paraphrase Radiohead: I do it to myself, and that's what really hurts...

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