Tuesday, October 11, 2016

An Interview with Emma Ridley: Disney's Real Life Princess of Oz

By Ron Baxley

Disney's "Return to Oz" is a 1985 fantasy adventure film loosely based on L. Frank Baum's Oz novels set six months after the events of the first novel, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" (1900), took place. Although it is not an official sequel to the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film "The Wizard of Oz," it does borrow a few elements from it, most notably the Ruby Slippers. "Return to Oz" became the cult classic it is now out of Disney's struggle since the 1930s to create an Oz film before the rights went to the public domain in 1985. In today's new article, contributing writer and Oz author Ron Baxley, Jr. interviews Emma Ridley, the actress who portrayed Princess Ozma in the 1985 Disney film which celebrated a 30th anniversary last year…

Emma Ridley is Disney’s self-proclaimed, only non-animated live action princess. Granted, there is Giselle from “Enchanted”, but she moved from animated to live action as did the princesses one sees in the Parks and those on the Disney owned ABC network’s “Once Upon a Time.” Emma Ridley has, for most of her life, been a “real-life” Princess Ozma from Disney’s 1985 “Return to Oz”.

Photo by: Ron Baxley, Jr., contributing writer (taken at Oz-Stravaganza 2016)

In fact, Ms. Ridley (pictured above), in a long white dress, expensive ivory-colored princess pumps, and a tiara among her royal regalia as a special guest celebrity, exclaimed at Oz-Stravaganza 2016, a festival celebrating original Oz author L. Frank Baum in Chittenango, New York, “I am Disney’s only true life princess!”

Emma Ridley as Princess Ozma in Disney's "Return to Oz"

Ms. Ridley, a cheery, bubbly, and gorgeous individual in person and cordial one in correspondence, has never quite left being the sole, original live action Disney princess, Princess Ozma of the Land of Oz, behind nor has she left the world of childhood fancy behind in her heart. She retains her regal, sweet voice and she still possesses her core “Princess Ozma” if you will.

Annete Funicello as Princess Ozma

Granted, the late original Mouseketeer, actress, and singer Annette Funicello was slated to play Princess Ozma with her own crown and long white dress in a never-to-be-produced planned production of an Oz film with the Mousketeers in key roles in the late 50s, but this never came to fruition. Emma Ridley, a child of the 80s, will always be Disney’s Princess Ozma.

Emma Ridley as Princess Ozma in a scene from Disney's "Return to Oz"

But one may ask, “What is all this talk about Princess Ozma being in charge of Oz? I thought the Wizard was in charge of Oz and left the Scarecrow and others to rule in his absence.” Well, you are correct, but there is more to the story – much more. There are 13 L. Frank Baum Oz books beyond the original you may have read and many additional Oz books after that.

As an Oz author and avid fan of the work of L. Frank Baum as well as the film “Return to Oz,” like Emma, I am aware that Ozma is the true princess of Oz and was secreted away in different ways in L. Frank Baum’s "The Marvelous Land of Oz" and in the aforementioned film which partially used this text. I will give no spoilers here, though, because I want the general public to continue to read the L. Frank Baum books, see “Return to Oz”, and (shameless plug) even read my books which allude to and utilize Baum’s. As an Oz author invited in Authors and Artists Alley in Oz-Stravaganza in Chittenango, New York, where Emma Ridley has been a special guest celebrity for several years as well as a grand marshal of the Oz parade there at least one year, I met her and spoke with her cordially on several occasions. I was also an authorial vendor at OzCon in San Diego, California in 2015 where Emma was a special guest celebrity and conversed with her there as well.

Photo by: Ali Tavakoly (taken at OzCon 2015)

Therefore, I have some background into her life and persona. For example, I know that she was once a dancer in the Royal Ballet School in London, England and basically became more of a posher female Billy Elliott when she moved to films and has acted, sang, and danced her way into the hearts of many through the decades (she recently did a Madonna-esque performance in a video for her performance of “Amazing Grace” as yet another example). During the past few years, Emma and I have stayed in touch via social media and chat from time to time. Here is what Emma Ridley/ “Princess Ozma” had to say for her interview with me for Disney Avenue:


Step back in the mirror with her in the “Return to Oz” version of a mirror-walled Emerald City palace to her past…

1) Where did you grow up?

Emma Ridley (ER): I was born in Heartfordshire, England, North of London, and I grew up all over London, including Hampstead, Convent Garden, and the Kings Road, Chelsea. I basically lived in Southgate and North London.

2) What was your most memorable experience being on the set of “Return to Oz”?

ER: My most memorable experience being on the set of “Return to Oz”?  Wow …so many! Playing with Faruiza Balk (who played Dorothy in the film)…they could never find us as we, being the only children on set, would play hide and seek. (She inserted, over this Facebook chat interview, a LOL to indicate that she was laughing out loud.)

3) What was your most memorable experience from the premiere?

ER: I was at the Royal Ballet School at the time, so I was in Boarding School and was unable to attend.  (Emma, over this Facebook chat interview, added the emoticon “:(” to this to indicate her sadness.)

4) Was there an actor who served as your mentor on the set of “Return to Oz”? If so, who was he or she and how did he or she mentor you?

ER: I loved Mombi actress Jean Marsh. She said if she ever had a daughter, she would want one like me. Awww… I will never forget that. It was such a compliment.

5) I have read or heard at an event that your voice was dubbed over by another actress’ in the film. Can you explain this?

ER: Beatrice Murch’s, Walter Murch’s, the director’s daughter dubbed my voice. I was never told. (Emma placed another “:(” emoticon beside this over chat indicating her sadness regarding this.)

6) What was your professional relationship / potential friendship with Fairuza Balk (the actress who played the “new” live action Dorothy in the 1985 film) like?

ER: We used to have sleepovers, and I would want to chat all night, but she was smart enough to know we needed sleep as we would be working the following day.

7) What was the scariest part of “Return to Oz” for you? Some have criticized it as being too dark for a Disney film, etc. Do you think the darker parts served a purpose and why?

ER: I think it was before its time because now kids loved to be scared. The scariest part was watching it after filming had been finished.

8)  Who is your favorite character in “Return to Oz”?

ER: OZMA! LOL! Because she is mystical and magical, and I got to play her!

9) Were you given any special Disney perks as a child, like going to the theme parks or going behind the scenes there when the film came out?

ER: After filming “Return to Oz”, I did, with my family, visit Disney World in Florida, and we were upgraded!


Step back through the mirror on the wall of the “Return to Oz” Emerald City Palace to the modern day America…

10) Do you visit the Disney theme parks with your family? If so, which ones? What are your favorite parts of the parks?

ER: When my kids were little, we loved all of them. “It’s a Small World” was my favorite.

11) Do you like other modern Oz films such as “Oz the Great and Powerful”?

ER: Yes. M.G.M’s “The Wizard of Oz” is my next favorite after “Return to Oz.”

12) Who is your favorite Disney character (besides “Return to Oz” characters)? Why?

ER: Elsa from “Frozen” because of the song “Let It Go” and because of the character in general. “Frozen” is my favorite Disney film because of all of the great songs.

13) You have mentioned that you are Disney’s “only true life princess.” (I was a bit presumptive earlier when examining your self-proclamation about that.) Explain what you mean by this statement.

ER: Most Disney princesses are cartoons. I am real! LOL!

14) During the past three years or more, there has been a resurgence in interest in Disney’s “Return to Oz” among Oz fandom. Some never left their interest in it from childhood, yet you seem to be making more appearances because of the film in the past three years or more. What do you think has brought this on?

ER: The 30 year anniversary celebration of the film.

15) How do you feel about the Oz fans? Do you feel treated like a princess by the fans?

ER: I love them. I always get treated like a princess by them.

16) You have transitioned in your career from being an actress to a fitness entrepreneur. What is involved in the business and how does it compare to and contrast your past?

ER: It’s all about having fun. I had fun then, and I have fun now!

17) Do you feel like a princess in your business and do you make other ladies feel like princesses in your business as well? How and why?

ER: I graduated from princess to goddess (her business in Sherman Oaks, California is, again, Goddess Fitness Dance) LOL! It’s all about transformation and empowerment.


Gaze into the crystal ball and see…

18) Do you have any Oz-related projects or Disney-related projects in the works? 

ER: I am going to be writing books with Ryan Jay (film critic, fashion critic, and television personality) about my experiences on the set of “Return to Oz.”

19)  What advice would you give to young ladies who want to be princesses in their own ways?

ER: We are all princesses already. Whatever we think we are, we are right. (She ended her online interview with the symbols for hugs and kisses for all.)


Thank you, Your Majesty, Princess Ozma, and many hugs of appreciation back for this interview. Princess Ozma/Emma Ridley, you’ve made this return to Oz a wondrous journey for this life-long Oz fan and author. May your fans find their own way to you over bodies of water and the Deadly Desert to find the one true Disney princess of Oz. May they also end their own journey with a talking hen, a wind-up robot, and other new friends, evading a bloodthirsty witch and sadistic Nome King. In short, may they watch your cult classic, Disney's 1985 "Return to Oz", in awe!


S.C. native author and former 15-year educator Ron Baxley, Jr. has visited Disney World since he was three in 1978. His mother, Marleen Baxley, was originally from Jacksonville, Florida and had family there who facilitated going to Disney World. Ron has been invited as a guest author at Oz festivals and science fiction cons since 2010 and was recently awarded the honor of a lifetime membership by the International L. Frank Baum and All Things Oz Foundation in Chittenango, New York, birthplace of L. Frank Baum, in June for his lifetime Ozian achievements. Within the past year, Ron posted a social media article with photographs entitled simply “Dad and Disney” in which he compared a lifetime of experiences in the Magic Kingdom in Disney World with his Dad including his first-time experiences in Disneyland after attending as an authorial vendor at OzCon in San Diego in 2015. From having a plush Mickey Mouse as his favorite, earliest toy to watching Disney films, Ron has been a Disney fan as long as he has been a fan of “The Wizard of Oz.” If he is not occasionally traveling to the closest Disney Store outlet in Concord, N.C., he enjoys yearly trips to the Disney Parks and collects different types of Mr. Potato Heads there and elsewhere.

Ron is an Oz, fantasy, science fiction, children's, and young adult author of 25 years and part-time correspondent/reporter for the Orangeburg “Times and Democrat” in Orangeburg, S.C. He has most recently had an article on Eugene and Eulie David, former M.G.M. Wizard of Oz “Munchkin” actors and brothers who lived in his hometown of Barnwell, S.C. published in the August - October 2016 issue of the glossy national magazine “Filmfax” after it appeared in three newspapers. He placed this article and a fictionalization of it as well as stories which followed his previously published Oz books in a brand new Oz fan-fic collection, After Th’Oz, available from Amazon. A full listing of his Oz, co-written Oz/Wonderland, fantasy, and science fiction books (some of which were traditionally published from Maple Creek Press) can be found by clicking here and information on his other projects and updates can be found at his author page, here.

You can find all of Ron's articles here.


  1. This is one of my favorite articles by Ron Baxley, Jr. on
    Disney Avenue. Love the subject and the manner in which the interview is presented. Verrrrry interesting!

  2. What an Oz-some article! Makes me want to read more books by Ron Baxley, Jr. and Baum! I would love to see a Disney Story written by Ron Baxley, Jr. He has such a magical way in which he writes! Can't wait to read more by him!

  3. As an OZ fan, I really enjoyed Ron's interview with Ms Ridley!Hope to see many more articles by Mr. Baxley!

  4. Outstanding interview. Having met and worked with Emma Ridley myself, she comes across as gregariously as this interview does. She's a joy to be around and Ron's ability to bring that aspect of her onto the printed page (or in this case, the electronic page) is a testament to his abilities as a writer. Job well done, Ron!

  5. Wonderful Article.. I love the interview. Your books are excellent and enjoy the illustrations as well. Thanks!