The makers of Return to Oz say that their rather bleak, nonmusical fantasy is more faithful to Mr. Baum's vision than "The Wizard of Oz" was. What's appropriate, however, isn't always what's right. All Ms. Balk can do is look earnest and young; Ms. Garland opened her mouth and out came Dorothy's soul.
First of all, it has no music. That aside, it doesn't have any wit, joy, or drive. Children who haven't had the pleasure of seeing The Wizard of Oz might enjoy this film, but it will also frighten them. There are some fine, Oscar-nominated special effects, but the excitement just isn't there.
Kids probably will enjoy portions of Return to Oz, but at best, it's a mechanical movie that never finds a real heart to engage an audience. [21 Jun 1985, p.79]