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Babes in Toyland (1961)
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Babes in Toyland (1961) was Walt Disney Studio's first live-action musical release. Halfway between a play and a movie, much of the piece takes place "onstage," using painted sets and contained in a theater-size area. One of a number of productions based on Victor Herbert's 1903 operetta, dancing, singing, and familiar Mother Goose characters are at the center of this movie. A thin story about a dastardly villain attempting to upset the wedding plans of Mary-Mary and Tom-Tom, the Piper's son, simply moves the action from one set piece to another. Only very young kids, not yet able to distinguish real violence from cartoon violence, might be bothered by the exaggerated, mustache-twirling, comic malevolence of Mr. Barnaby or by the farcical action in which characters slip, fall, get hit over the head with a mallet, and get lost in a forest filled with mildly menacing talking trees.
What's the story?
Mary-Mary Quite Contrary (Annette Funicello) and Tom Piper (Tommy Sands) are getting married in BABES IN TOYLAND (1961). Unfortunately, Mr. Barnaby (Ray Bolger), the mustache-twirling comic villain, has other ideas. Aware that Mary-Mary is due to come into a large sum of money, Mr. Barnaby plans to get rid of Tom and marry Mary-Mary himself. To aid his dastardly cause, he enlists the help of two bumbling henchmen, who succeed in making all kinds of trouble for the happy couple. Other Mother Goose characters aid Mary-Mary, save Tom, and outwit Mr. Barnaby. In the midst of the chaos Mr. Barnaby has perpetrated, the heroes find themselves in Toyland, where they encounter the Chief Toymaker (Ed Wynn) along with his inventor-assistant and end up helping save Christmas.
Is it any good?
This movie offered many features appealing to kids, back when it was released. It had silly inventions, especially one that can shrink people; the lovable Ed Wynn as Toyland's Chief Toymaker; and the participation of some of the 1960s' major pop music stars. However, for today's viewers, this stagy, artificial film feels formulaic and doesn't have the vibrancy, innovation, or magic of the musical movies for families that soon followed (Mary Poppins, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang). Still, the rosy-cheeked Mother Goose characters, the terrific dance numbers, and the Victor Herbert songs are enough to entertain most kids. As for comedy and slapstick, the 1934 filmed version of this operetta, which featured Laurel and Hardy as the bumbling, villainous sidekicks, is called March of the Wooden Soldiers and is considered the best Toyland of all.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about bringing Mother Goose to life. Why is it so much fun to watch characters with whom we're already familiar? Are the characters in this movie true to the storybook verses you've read? Which, if any, surprised you?
Find out about the different versions of Babes in Toyland that have been filmed or staged. What is the origin of the very first production? What do you think makes this tale special enough to be remade so many times?
This movie is based on a play (in this case, an operetta). In what way or ways does this movie retain elements that would be found in a musical play?
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