The film was hastily pulled from theaters after a few weeks, and was then dumped onto VHS months later. Even on home video, the film could not escape its tainted image. The box art on the original VHS release had a disclaimer in the lower left corner which read, "Portions of this material may not be suitable for small children. Parental discretion is advised". And the truth is that, yes, Return to Oz is largely a disturbing and unrelentingly bleak experience. From the opening moments, when Dorothy is being carted off to an insane asylum to receive shock therapy, well, you know you're not exactly in Kansas anymore. Added to that, the other controversial elements of the film - Princess Mombi and her interchangeable heads, the Wheelers, the somewhat kinky Nome King - and you realize that Return to Oz is basically a horror film under the Disney banner.
Over the years, however, the film developed an audience. And that audience prefers the darker side of Oz over the 1939 classic, which honestly strays from the source material in many ways - something that Return to Oz does not. Return to Oz is closer in tone to the original books, and the books can be quite frightening at times.
Return to Oz was released on DVD by the folks at Anchor Bay in 1999. Fans of the film rallied around the release, and were incredibly supportive of it - even though the transfer was muddy and non-anamorphic. In 2004, Disney brought us an "official" release, which was anamorphic and carried over the trailer and featurette from the Anchor Bay release. Only the transfer had not been properly restored. Dirt and debris still plague the film. Other Disney DVD releases do not look like Return to Oz. Most of them have been scrubbed clean for their DVD debuts. Disney's attitude towards Return to Oz has been largely dismissive since the original theatrical release. It's almost as if Disney is ashamed of this film. And they shouldn't be. It is a work of art. It should be seen by all audiences, especially lovers of fantasy. It's one of the best films of the eighties, and deserves to be treated as such. Digital copies of a 1080p restoration can be found on Amazon Instant Video and Vudu. This is a step in the right direction, but what fans really want is a proper Blu-ray release - complete with special features. A few featurettes, a commentary from the director and Fairuza Balk would be most welcome. It should be meticulously restored, not rushed out for the sake of quieting the fans or turning a quick profit.
Disney, let's make this happen. It's what we want, and it is long overdue. Return to Oz is an amazing film. Give us the opportunity to experience it in the best way possible.
In the meantime, fans can sign this petition at this wonderful unofficial page that is dedicated to the film.