Babes in Toyland (1961)

BABES IN TOYLAND (1961)
Article #636 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-11-2002
Posting Date: 5-6-2003

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary and Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son mean to marry, but the evil Barnaby means to take Mary for his own bride.

Back when I covered THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), I essentially avoided the pitfall of mouthing platitudes about the movie by cleverly (or spinelessly, as the case may be) speaking of it in terms of other movies entirely. Now that I am faced with this one, I find myself wanting to talk about THE WIZARD OF OZ instead, which is something I find a little ironic.

To start with, I wonder if THE WIZARD OF OZ would be the cultural touchstone that it is if its space as a perennial favorite had been usurped by some other musical fairy tale; this one, for instance. Would I have ended up loving and revering this movie as I do that one? The answer is an emphatic “NO!”, despite the fact that they both feature Ray Bolger and trees capable of expressing themselves orally. What THE WIZARD OF OZ had was a real villain; the closest the wicked witch of the west came to being a comic character was her reaction to the suggestion that someone might drop a house on her, a moment which in no way damaged her role as a dangerous adversary. Barnaby is, on the other hand, more apt to play up the comedy of his role, and you never sense a real threat. This is a mistake; without that sense of danger, this movie never develops into anything other than a piece of fluff. Sadly, this is something that used to be known at Disney; remember how scary parts of SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS were?

The music is another point of contention; in THE WIZARD OF OZ, the songs (for the most part) are strong, memorable, and bound firmly into the plot of the story; they flesh out the themes and advance the plot. Here, they are fairly unmemorable and usually bring the plot to a screeching halt. And as this is an operetta (my definition of an operetta: a musical for people who don’t think there is enough music in musicals and who think operas are too high class), it spends most of its running time at a screeching halt. For me, the movie doesn’t really become fun until Ed Wynn shows up, and though this is partly because I find Wynn a fun and comfortable comic presence, it is also because Wynn’s distinctly non-musical presence inspires the filmmakers to blessedly dispense with the singing and dancing for the most part.

Other points: Barnaby’s comic cohorts bear just enough resemblance to Laurel and Hardy to leave me wishing I was watching the 1934 version of the movie instead. Also, having no kids of my own, I had to watch this one on my own without the excuse of playing it for the kids, and if the truth be told, I think I was more embarassed watching this than I was watching DRACULA: THE DIRTY OLD MAN.

And there’s not a single flying monkey.

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