Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Babes in Toyland (1961)

Well, this afternoon I was supposed to attend a 50th anniversary screening of BABES IN TOYLAND at the Disney Studios theater on their Burbank lot.

Unfortunately, not long after I left on the drive, my van blew a tire on the freeway. Having to miss the screening was quite a disappointment, but being a glass is half full kind of person, I'm very grateful that I exited the freeway safely and that all went smoothly handling the problem. I'll try heading for the L.A. area again tomorrow for the Myrna Loy event at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood!

As it happens, I had bought the BABES IN TOYLAND DVD for my children some years ago, but I'd never had the chance to sit down and watch it with them. So once I was safely home again I made the best of things and enjoyed the movie at home.

BABES IN TOYLAND was released December 14, 1961. It stars Annette Funicello, who was 18 when she filmed her role as Mary Contrary. The film, a Disneyized version of the Victor Herbert operetta, is a fantasy which makes absolutely no pretenses to reality. In fact, it begins with a curtain opening onto what appears to be a stage, and it ends the same way.

Watching this colorful film felt like something akin to watching a Disneyland parade. (In fact, the film's sets were displayed at Disneyland in 1961.) It's visually attractive and fun to watch, though there isn't much substance underneath.

Mary, who is caring for five younger siblings, is about to marry Tom Piper (Tommy Sands). Mary is unaware that she'll come into an inheritance when she weds, but evil Barnaby (Ray Bolger) knows about it, so he kidnaps Tom, intending to wed Mary himself and obtain her fortune. For good measure he kidnaps the sheep tended by little sister Bo Peep (Ann Jillian), taking away the family's income.

It's all played quite broadly, with Bolger as a mustache-twirling villain straight out of an old-time melodrama. Annette is very cute, though her emotional range is fairly limited, looking either happy or concerned -- but, to be fair, she doesn't have much to work with in terms of the script having any kind of depth. I enjoyed her, and she's featured in one of the most interesting sequences, "I Can't Do the Sum," as she multiplies into several Annettes in various Technicolor hues. I also especially enjoyed "Go to Sleep," a lullaby Mary and Tom sing to the children in the Forest of No Return.

The film's strong point is the Disney style, starting with the presence of Annette and other Disney regulars, such as Ed Wynn, Tommy Kirk, and Kevin Corcoran. The talking trees in the Forest of No Return again seem straight out of a Disney parade, as did a gypsy dance number I especially liked. There's even an audioanimatronic goose! The animated toys in the "March of the Wooden Soldiers" sequence seem like a dry run for the special effects later used in "Spoonful of Sugar" in MARY POPPINS (1964).

Although BABES IN TOYLAND isn't Disney at its best, the film's 106 minutes pass pleasantly. My husband and I were taken by the film's bright primary colors; he was reminiscing on the impression the colors made when he saw it on the WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY as a child.

Ann Jillian has shared her memories of working on the movie, including how Walt Disney and director Jack Donohue changed her last name.

This film was one of the 800+ credits of perennial extra and bit player Bess Flowers, seen here in a photo to the right. She is easily recognizable as a villager in many scenes.

The screenplay was cowritten by Disney's legendary man-of-all-trades, Ward Kimball, who served as animator, writer, director, Imagineer, musician (in the Firehouse Five), and more. Just a couple days ago I linked to a story about Kimball's grandson serving as an engineer on the Ward Kimball locomotive at Disneyland.

In addition to the DVD release mentioned above, BABES IN TOYLAND was released on VHS.

The DVD can be rented from Netflix, and the movie is also available for streaming from Amazon Instant Video.


Blogger DKoren said...

So sorry you missed the screening, but glad that you were safe. Never find having a blowout on a Southern California freeway!

You know, I've never seen this version. I've seen the Laurel & Hardy version dozens of time (it was a family favorite growing up). I actually still have a record of the soundtrack from this one, and I remember studying the pictures on the record, but I don't recall the soundtrack at all!

Have fun today! Wish I was going too! Next time!

11:57 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Deb!

When I was young a friend of mine had the same record album, and I vividly remember looking at the pictures and wanting to see the movie, but I never had the chance. (Part of the reason is that, according to one article I read, unlike most of the studio's films, Disney never brought BABES IN TOYLAND back to theaters after its initial run. Back in those pre-VHS days, of course, it was a theater, commercial TV, or nothing!) So what fun to read that the album also made an impression of sorts on you!

Hope to see you at a screening soon!

Best wishes,

10:43 PM  
Blogger Jandy Stone said...

I watched this movie so many times when I was a kid. I'm a little afraid to watch it now, that it won't live up to my memories of it! I've never seen the Laurel & Hardy version, though I'd like to - it's pretty clear that henchman characters are imitating Laurel & Hardy.

8:43 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jandy, that's a great point -- the henchmen were definitely "Laurel and Hardy lite"!

Best wishes,

9:34 AM  

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