Episode 1 - RETURN TO OZ: The Girl who Drowned

The Popcorn Isn't Real

Leif Eric and Torvald kick-off The Popcorn Isn't Real with a dark theory surrounding the 1985 children's fantasy film, Return to Oz. Eric is determined to prove that there was no happy ending, and not everyone survived Dorothy's final trip to Oz!

Rent or buy Return to Oz and follow along with us!

A young girl drowns at the beginning of Disney's 1985 film Return To Oz. The entire movie is a dissociative fantasy concocted by Dorothy's mind to absolve herself of the guilt she feels for playing a role in that tragic event.


Dorothy escapes Dr. Worley's with an unnamed girl we'll call Ozma-IRL.

Ozma-IRL and Dorothy hidingOzma-IRL and Dorothy escaping

But the escape does not go well.

Escaping the Worley Clinic

They fall in the river. Dorothy surfaces. Ozma-IRL does not. Dorothy knows Ozma-IRL just drowned and she could do nothing to save her. This trauma causes her to dissociate back to the fantasy world of Oz.

Fallen in the river

Throughout the film, Ozma is a shimmering, ghostlike character. Someone whom Dorothy wants to reach, but the glass barrier and outside forces always keep them apart, just as the storm and river separated them permanently in real life.

Ghostly shimmering Ozma

Dorothy feels guilty for not saving Ozma-IRL. To absolve herself, she creates a narrative where she is a savior, a bringer of life.

She winds Tik-Tok back to life.

Winding up Tick-Tock

She rebuilds Jack's body.

Tying Jack back together

And she literally animates the Gump using POWDER OF LIFE.

Using the Poweder of Life on the Gump

Conversely, the Nome King is cast as a scapegoat, a death-bringer.

The frozen statue denizens of Oz

He turns living Oz citizens to stone.

Dorothy inspecting the statues

His desert turns the living to sand.

A Wheeler turned to sand

He takes away all the life that Dorothy gave by turning all her friends into inanimate ornaments.

Dorothy examining The Scarecrow ornament

Dorothy's mind is trying to convince her that this tragedy was not her fault but Dr. Worley's fault. And she's right. It is his fault that one of his young patients escaped and drowned during a storm.

The Gnome King

In the end, Dorothy creates a narrative that destroys the regret she feels for not being able to rescue Ozma-IRL from the water. She literally gets to pull Ozma from the shimmering glass, symbolically lifting her out of her watery grave.

Ozma through the looking-glass

Dorothy subconsciously knows this is just a fantasy. The last image seen before leaving Oz is a very sad Ozma. Superimposed over her face is an effect of sparkling water. Dorothy is reminded of the last time she left Ozma... to die underwater.

Ozma with the sparkling-water tranition effect

Back at home, Dorothy looks at Ozma in the mirror. Ozma says she can come back to Oz whenever she wants. A reminder that Dorothy's mind has created an escape from all future trauma. She can now dissociate back to Oz whenever life gets hard.

Ozma in the mirror with Belinda

Thematic hints tell us this film is about repressed trauma. Like Mombi's heads. She only has the memories of the head she wears. Much like Dorothy's mind fractured, splitting her personality to protect her from memories she doesn't want to know

Princess Mombi's heads on display

Another thematic hint: On the wall in Dorothy's room we see a photo of a blonde girl and a brunette girl (Ozma and Dorothy). It reads: I WILL GIVE YOU REST. A hint that this film will be about Dorothy trying to put the memory of Ozma-IRL to rest.


The main argument against this theory could be: Did Ozma-IRL even exist? No one sees or interacts with her except Dorothy. Maybe she wasn't real. But there's little to support this counter-argument as each Oz character has a real counterpart.

Ozma holding a pumpkin

Jack is the Pumpkin given to Dorothy.

Dorothy and Jack

Tick Tock is the machine Dr. Worley introduces to Dorothy.

Dr Worley shows his machine to DorothyTick Tock, The Royal Army of Oz

Undeniable evidence that proves Ozma-IRL really exists: When Dorothy is strapped down for shock therapy, she can't escape by herself.

Dorothy strapped down

Ozma-IRL unstraps her and they escape. This could not happen unless Ozma-IRL was a real person.

Ozma unstraps DorothyOzma and Dorothy going through a door

And now, the best evidence of all: In a deleted scene, after Aunt Em and Henry rescue Dorothy, a police officer asks if they've seen any sign of "The other one." Henry says they're still looking. Em says, "God-willing they find her too, poor girl."

I think this completely confirms the fan theory!

Return to Oz is a dissociative fantasy created by Dorothy's mind after witnessing a young girl drown. Go watch the film and see it in that light. It's one of my favorite films. I'm grateful to Walter Murch for creating such a masterpiece.