Return to Oz, Guillermo del Toro and George Lucas : Did One Inspire the Other?
On the week’s episode of Disney Magic Hour, which you can find HERE, we reviewed 1985’s RETURN TO OZ. A film that pushed the “dark” boundary extremely close to the breaking point when discussing a “family” film, as Disney brass wanted it to be. We actually enjoyed it for the most part despite the production having numerous speed bumps and getting its budget cut right before shooting was to begin. As we watched it, followed up by the discussion we had while recording, something really stuck out to me. Two of the sequences in the film reminded me of two other films that came after Oz came and went to no real fanfare. The release was a complete flop and it was only through a cult build that Return To Oz remains noted. Let’s talk about the other two films though and how Oz may have influenced them.
In the final act of Return to Oz our heroes are faced with a puzzle in order to restore the broken Emerald City and save Dorothy’s friend and King of Oz, Scarecrow. In their way is the Nome King (yes, Nome, not Gnome) as he has trapped Scarecrow within a room, deep in a cave, having transformed him into an object in his collection. Pictured below you have the King and the room of objects he keeps hidden.
Dorothy and her troop are tasked with this challenge, pick which of the objects are the Scarecrow and if you fail, you too become part of the collection. Tik-Tok, one of Dorothy’s protectors, chooses incorrectly by picking a shiny chalice.
By now you see where I am going with this but stick with me for some additional bits. Dorothy then gets to choose after Tik-Tok disappears and becomes part of the Nome King’s stockpile. She closes her eyes and let’s her instinct guide her.
…I could go in a “guide my sword” direction here but lets stick to the path of the penitent man.
Realizing that the subjects of the Emerald City should rightfully be emeradly (new word) she chooses wisely and saves the day.
Get it yet? I am sure you do. Four years later in 1989, Indiana Jones was to take one more ride into the sunset and this time he was after the holy grail. Spielberg would direct based off the story penned by George Lucas plus one other contributor, Menno Meyjes and finally Jeffrey Boam would write the screenplay. This was the formula for the previous Indy adventures as well. Spielberg behind the camera, Lucas writing the story, a third party writing the actual screenplay.
The final act of the film is some of the best of the series and it involves Indy having to face down challenges to reach the room where the grail resides with one additional task at hand, choosing the grail correctly. We have a dusty looking old man guarding a room buried deep within a cave, that room is filled with various objects (Crusade sticking to multiple drinking vessels) and the choice facing our hero to choose wisely to not only thwart the Nazi’s but to save the life of his father and friends. Sound familiar at all? Yes, the person guarding the room are opposite ends of the good/bad spectrum and Scarecrow is friend not father, but the scene reads nearly identical.
Someone even chooses the wrong chalice and while they don’t turn into stone as they do in Oz, they absolutely become part of the room by crumbling into dust.
Fun Fact! When Return to Oz was being made by director Walter Murch, production got so behind schedule that Disney actually fired him. Murch had some powerful friends who came to his defense and got him the job back. Francis Ford Coppola was one and the other? Take a wild guess!
Yep. Writer of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, George Fucking Lucas.
Sidenote : I absolutely love George Lucas. I need that to be perfectly clear.
All of this may be wild coincidence but there you go. Onto the second piece of Oz that struck a memory chord.
Without question the most memorable sequence in Return to Oz is when Dorothy must steal the Red key and Powder of Life from another villain, Princess Mombi. Holy S%&T, Princess Mombi. Princess Mombi, LITERALLY, takes other people’s heads then keeps them in glass cabinets adorning each side of a long, terrifying hallway. She can then wear the varying heads as it pleases her. This is a Disney movie. Yeah, I know, a lot of parents die in the animated films but no villain keeps the head of the parent and wears it like a goddamn Halloween costume. Mombi is all about that. When she sleeps, she puts all the heads in their cabinets while her HEADLESS body then rests elsewhere. Don’t worry, I have picture of all of this.
So, Dorothy creeps quietly into the hall of hell after taking the Red key from the headless body on a resting Mombi, which will then open the cabinet where the Powder of Life is kept which is needed to reanimate a dead moose.
If you have not figured it out yet, this movie is absolutely fucking bonkers in a lot of good ways.
I present to you, the hallway of heads…
Dorothy then opens the cabinet with the Powder in it and is welcomed by not only that but the favored head of Princess Mombi. This, I present in GIF form so you can no longer sleep at night without seeing it.
Clumsily, while reaching for the powder, Dorothy knocks over a small paper wrapped bottle and awakens the head of Mombi. Mombi then lets out a sound I will never forget, bellowing, “DOROTTTTHHHYYYY GAAAAAAALLLLLLEEEEE!!” which wakes up all the other decapitated heads who all then begin to scream together. It’s at this juncture that THE HEADLESS BODY on Mombi rises and does this…
Nearly scared to death, as anyone would be, Dorothy runs down the hallway narrowly escaping Mombi’s grasp but finds herself trapped in a dead end. Fear not though, with the assistance of a ghost girl trapped behind a mirror, a secret door is revealed and Dorothy escapes.
With that said…
Guillermo del Toro is one of the finest filmmaker’s alive. PAN’S LABYRINTH is a masterpiece. Arguably the most memorable scene of his career so far is that of the Pale Man. In Pan’s Labyrinth, our hero, Ofelia, is tasked with using a key to retrieve a magical knife. Problem is the place she must go to use the key has a single inhabitant and he does not take well to uninvited guests, especially of the child variety. Rather, he welcomes them but not in a friendly manner. He takes residence in a place which consists of a long hallway then an inner chamber. Important note, the Pale Man devours children. Ofelia obtains the knife, using the key she was given, as the Pale Man sleeps at a banquet table but she breaks a rule which awakens him. His eyes are not part of his body as he rests and he first must put his eyes into the palms of his hands to pursue the intruder. The screams he lets out during this chase must be heard. Ofelia is horror stricken and runs down the long hallway to hit a dead end. She entered using a magic door crafted by a chalk line she drew but it has disappeared. She hurriedly created another magic door to escape her cannibal host.
So let’s go over all of this.
Young girl tasked with taking an object of power from a horrifying being which is not fully human and even has appendages that they take on and off of their body while sleeping/resting/whatever the hell these beings would call it. Our hero must creep around them as they sleep but both make a mistake which awakes them, leading to a terror filled chase down a corridor which concludes with them using a secret/magical door to escape as the villain chases them down squealing with agony. Let’s compare some of the images too. I posted some of there up top but let’s see them again side by side.
Whether these are all coincidences or not is something we may never get a straight answer to. Perhaps both sequences were inspired by a previous incarnation in a fairy tale. They certainly fit the Candy House that trapped Hansel and Gretel. They seem to share the same DNA no matter what the case and it’s rather fascinating to watch them as separate pieces that crossover so effectively. Below you will find links to all the sequences described above. If nothing else you will now see a piece of Return to Oz which should provide you with enough entertainment for an afternoon.