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Category:    Home > Reviews > Animation > Children > Musical > Journey Back To Oz (1974 Animated Feature)

Journey Back To Oz (1974 Animated Feature)


Picture: C     Sound: C     Extras: B-     Film: B-



One of the most embarrassing things to happen particularly since the 1980s has been the tired, lame, soulless, shameless references all over the place (to the point of psychosis) has been references to the 1939 MGM classic The Wizard Of Oz.  It paints a new kind of unnecessary childishness over a truly important film.  Then there are the attempts to remake or revisit the territory so often since.  Sidney Lumet’s The Wiz (1978) was a mixed attempt to capture the R&B take of the book that at least was ambitious, while Walter Murch’s Return To Oz (1985) was an attempt to do a darker variant that was more technically proficient than engaging.


As is the case with any attempts to go back, time is of the essence and in many cases, you just cannot recapture a classic.  However, there was one attempt that came close and it is the 1974 animated sequel Journey Back To Oz, an attempt by the Filmation Studios to do a successful feature film and it gets more right in the heart and soul department.


For starters, Liza Minnelli voices Dorothy, the role her mother played (when Fox would not loan Shirley Temple to MGM) 35 years before.  Judy Garland was sadly gone by then, so there is a sad sense the film has for those in the know.  The only returning voice from the original film was the then very active Margaret Hamilton, voicing Auntie Em.  The former Wicked Witch was washed away in the 1939 film and her work is brief.  However, the material was irresistible to some of the biggest and most talented names in the business at the time and they are here in full force.


Milton Berle voiced the Cowardly Lion, Mickey Rooney voices the Scarecrow, Danny Thomas voices the Tin Man, Rise Stevens voices “Good Witch” Glinda and Paul Ford voices Uncle Henry.  On board to cover the new characters include Paul Lynde as Pumpkinhead, Herschel Bernardi as Woodenhead Pinto Stallion III (from a carousel), Jack E. Leonard as the Signpost, Mel Blanc as the Crow, Dallas McKeon as Omby Amby, Larry Storch as Amos and Ethel Merman as Mombi – The Bad Witch who wants revenge on Dorothy for killing her cousin.  With the sad development in animation of stars replacing devoted voice actors for such work, this cast annihilates those many attempts to pump-up newer features with star names.


The Fred Ladd/Norm Prescott/Bernard Evslin screenplay is based on L. Frank Baum’s The Marvelous Land Of Oz if somewhat loosely since that book had a male protagonist, replaced by Dorothy here.  Though not in the most vibrant color (and who can compete with that old dye-transfer Technicolor form the ’39 film?) Filmation ever made, it is some of the better color they used and went for a storybook look.  That was not bad, though the other styles (theirs, some of Disney’s) may not have meshed for most and then there are those who only want to see the ’39 film and no others.  That is understandable, but not fair to this film, which deserves a fresh look 30+ years later.


While the 1939 film had only a few songs, The Wiz and this film are more outright musicals, Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen wrote the songs while Walter Scharf (veteran of Mr. Magoo cartoon shorts who also wrote the title song for Ben) did the music and orchestration.  Songs like A Faraway Land, If You’re Gonna Be A Witch – Be A Witch, That Feeling For Home and An Elephant Never Forgets are more memorable and interesting than expected, if not classics.  Between them and some very good, enthusiastic voice work, the film is very watchable and material so good that it could work today if remade as a live action feature.  It may be rough in spots, but no follow-up to the ’39 Oz ever has worked as well and pretty much never will.


The 1.33 X 1 image is a little softer than usual and was either shot soft matte (meaning this would be the full frame that you could letterbox any way you wished to 1.85 X 1) or is a tunnel vision print.  From a 16 X 9 zoom-in, it fortunately looks like the former.  Colors can be good and are consistent enough, but the style of animation has aged a bit.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is not as full as expected either, though I wondered if the vinyl record soundtrack was both stereo and the same recordings as those in the film?  If stereo, they should have been added in an upgrade.  If alternate recordings, why not an isolated track with them?


Extras include DVD-ROM access to music sheets and the first draft of the screenplay, stills, The Bill Cosby segments taped for TV where he plays The Wizard Of Oz in a hot air balloon, two trailers for this film, 14 for other Filmation releases on or coming to DVD, sing-a-long on four songs, on-cameras interview pieces with Lou Scheimer, Hal Sutherland & Fred Ladd and a feature-length audio commentary with the makers hosted by Andy Mangles with Irving Kaplan, Scheimer, Sutherland and Ladd.


Yes, another well-rounded Filmation DVD from BCI!  Be sure to catch it.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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