From what I understand, a lot of kids have an imaginary friend at some point in their lives. I don’t know how long they usually last or how vivid the imagination is, or, you know, if the kids aren’t just seeing ghosts of once-murdered kids who lived in their house or something, but as I understand it, it’s a common thing.
While I didn’t really have an imaginary friend when I was a kid, I did have a sort of fictional hero, and okay, fine, a few times I asked my parents to set an extra place for him at the dinner table. Not that I expected him to show up, I just liked to imagine he was there while I ate my dinner, because then I could imagine that afterwards, we’d go off and commit good-natured treason in England.
My imaginary friend, if that’s what we’re calling it, was Robin Hood.
It’s because of Disney. Here’s the thing: if anyone who isn’t English and is under the age of fifty tells you that they didn’t first hear about Robin Hood because of the Disney movie, then they’re fucking liars and are doing a terrible job of impressing everyone. The hard fact is that most of us learned about historical and/or legendary characters because Disney made them into animals who told jokes, and that’s just the way it goes. It might not be historically accurate, it might not be faithful to literature, but at least I was entertained as a kid, and in terms of entertainment, I could do no better than Robin Hood.
I loved Robin Hood. I loved the story, I loved the songs, I loved that the love story (which I found awkward, because cooties, ew) played second fiddle to the part about being a badass who helps people. Robin Hood was right in my wheelhouse, and I watched it probably hundreds of times (including once when my sister fell off the back porch and fractured her skull, and everyone panicked and left either in the ambulance or in cars following the ambulance, forgetting that I was four years old and still at home by myself, but fear not, o family, for I used these moments of total freedom/abandonment to put my Robin Hood tape in the VCR and was contentedly watching it when my grandmother burst into the house about 40 minutes later, after someone finally remembered that I existed).
I own Robin Hood on DVD these days, but I don’t think I watched it until I saw that it was on Netflix last weekend. Surely my period had something to do with it, but do you ever encounter something that you once loved so intensely and get a little thick in the chest over it? Even if the part of it you’re encountering isn’t really emotional at all (and possibly involves a tournament-wide brawl where a Scottish chicken stabs a rhino in the ass with an arrow)? Yeah, that was me last Sunday.
It was supposed to be a full-scale nostalgic movie weekend, with Courtney, Mike and I re-watching “Return to Oz” on Friday. But then Cate Le Bon happened so we rescheduled, and that’s why we watched it last night.
The first thing you need to know is that according to Mike’s research – which involved a visit to the movie page on Rotten Tomatoes – many people consider “Return to Oz” to be a more faithful interpretation of some of the Oz books than the original Judy Garland film. I wouldn’t know this because I never read the books, and again, if anyone tells you that their primary awareness of Oz came from the books instead of the original film, then they’re fucking lying to you.
So while I can’t vouch for the literary accuracy of “Return to Oz,” I can tell you that almost all of it is batshit crazy, and that at some points, it being a children’s movie makes about as much sense as “Watership Down” being adapted as an animated feature advertised as “fun for the whole family.” Which actually happened, by the way, and it’s horrifying.
I remembered some of “Return to Oz” before re-watching it last night, but most of it was images that I’d since forgotten about the source. I remembered the lunch pail tree, the stamp on the Tic-Toc Man’s back, and the gallery of Mombi’s heads. I remembered the Deadly Desert and the Wheeler scenes as way longer than they actually were, and I wonder if maybe Childhood Me didn’t usually fall asleep for the last several scenes because I remembered so little of them it was like I was watching for the first time.
I also did not remember the Gnome King being very queeny about those ruby slippers, nor did I have any memory of Bellina and the Gump just straight up bitching for the entire fucking movie. I’m no screenwriter, but if I was Dorothy Gale, I’d have thrown up my hands and been like “Fuck you guys if you want to complain like this, you can stay in that ornament room for years, I’m going back to live in squalor in Kansas.”
I definitely remembered the electroshock therapy scene, which scared the shit out of me as a kid because it meant that any adult could commit me to a mental institution if they wanted, and no matter how well-intentioned the staff was, their medical procedures would probably be quackery and I would end up lobotomized in the basement.
Uncle Henry and Auntie Em are all kinds of fucked up, by the way, and I don’t just mean because Piper Laurie played Auntie Em and I have a hard time remembering her career outside of being stabbed to death by flying knives after abusing her daughter in “Carrie.” Although I guess she’s sort of monstrous in “Return to Oz,” because she’s basically pissed off that Henry’s a deadbeat and Dorothy has an active imagination, so she clips this electroshock therapy ad out of the paper and just drops Dorothy off there to get her brain sizzled out. And when they find Dorothy later – apparently washed up from Oz after being half-drowned in an escape from the mental hospital – she acts like everything’s just fine, even though the mental hospital burned down and most of the people involved were arrested. No harm no foul, right, Auntie Em (you witch)?