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Babes in Toyland(1961)
Enjoy a happy excursion into the world of Mother Goose in Walt Disney's first musical production! All roads lead to magical, merry Toyland as Mary Contrary and Tom Piper prepare for their wedding! But villainous Barnaby wants Mary for himself, so he kidnaps Tom, setting off a series of comic chases, searches, and double-crosses!
For more about Babes in Toyland and the Babes in Toyland Blu-ray release, see Babes in Toyland Blu-ray Review published by Brian Orndorf on December 15, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Ray Bolger, Tommy Sands, Annette Funicello, Ed Wynn, Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran
Director: Jack Donohue
» See full cast & crew
Babes in Toyland Blu-ray Review
Things to do in Disney when you're dead.
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf, December 15, 2012
"Babes in Toyland" represented a bold step forward for Walt Disney in 1961. His first live-action musical, the mogul proceeded carefully with the work, updated from the operetta by Victor Herbert, casting fan-favorite and loyal Mouseketeer Annette Funicello (the girl who launched an entire generation of boys into puberty) in the lead role, while filling the frame with all kinds of advanced Disney wizardry to keep audiences amazed and, at times, distracted. Experimental in nature but familiar in design, the picture is a mixed bag of delights, with the majority of its success tied to the designers and animators, who bring a surprising amount of invention to the screen, working to open up the limited stage setting Disney requested. While it's rarely daring, "Babes in Toyland" does enjoy moments of sparkle, while supplying enough requisite shenanigans to fuel an unfussy tale of heroes, villains, and shrinking rays. Perhaps 105 minutes of this sugary concoction borders on punishment, but when the movie hits a creative groove the results are highly amusing, generating a heightened sense of theatrical entertainment with a definite Disney twist.
A glorious wedding day approaches for couple Mary Contrary (Annette Funicello) and Tom Piper (Tommy Sands), with their community of nursery rhyme characters overwhelmed with joy, toasting the happy couple with celebratory lemonade and demonstrations of ability. Less approving is the villainous Barnaby (Ray Bolger, perhaps best known as the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz"), who wants to take Mary for himself, thus claiming a hazily defined inheritance. Hiring goons Gonzorgo (Henry Calvin) and Roderigo (Gene Sheldon) to stalk and kill Tom by throwing him into the sea and steal her beloved multicolored sheep, Barnaby sets his devious plan in motion, hoping Mary will have no choice but to marry him and live unhappily ever after. Trying to double their fortunes, Gonzorgo and Roderigo secretly sell Tom to a pack of Gypsies, returning to Barnaby without proof of death. Trouble in the land intensifies once Mary and the gang discover the Toymaker (Ed Wynn) and his assistant Grumio (Tommy Kirk, another popular cast member from "The Mickey Mouse Club"), who are desperate to come up with a solution that will help them generate enough toys to cover the Christmas demand, finding the apprentice's amazing manufacturing inventions causing more harm than good.
"Babes in Toyland" exists in a wonderful era that predates political correctness, displaying a range of behaviors and plot turns that would never fly with today's parental supervision. Perhaps the most interesting narrative curveball is Barnaby's plan to murder Tom to clear a path to Mary, hiring two bumbling killers to do the dirty deed. It's no joke; Tom is marked for death early on in the feature, with a song ("We Won't Be Happy Till We Get It") devoted to the plan, helping to soften the inherent horror of the act with a musical number that turns the assassination scheme into slapstick comedy. Later in the picture, Mary, believing herself to be abandoned by her man and her sheep, frets about her dire future with intimidating mortgage figures. It's a surreal dance number of colored multiplicity that Funicello pulls off satisfactorily, yet the message is ridiculous, positioning Mary as a moron who can't fend for herself, stymied by the simplest financial woes. It's enough to make Malibu Stacy proud. Of course, I'm not criticizing the film's dated interests; in fact, I found them enlivening the "Babes in Toyland" viewing experience, enjoying the unsavory activity of the screenplay and the often elaborate means to bring it all to cinematic life.
Introduced by Mother Goose (Mary McCarty) and her sass-mouthed goose pal Sylvester, "Babes in Toyland" commences as an elaborate stage show, with curtains parting to reveal a magical land of nursery rhyme characters working their traditional antics (e.g. Jack jumping over the candlestick), while the tight confines pack in extraordinary sets, brought to life through the miracle of Technicolor. It's a gorgeous film, pure eye-candy in the best Disney sense, and while it lacks breathing room, "Babes in Toyland" has plenty of energy and a great number of tricks up its sleeve. Director Jack Donohue and his creative team do a splendid job with special effects (scale work is excellent) and visual trickery, gifting the picture a cartoon mood to appease younger viewers, keeping antics successfully boisterous and, at times, genuinely mysterious.
Casting goes a long way to making "Babes in Toyland" palatable, with an impressively committed performance from Bolger, who makes for a convincingly nasty, pussyfooting villain, though there's just enough charm to make one forget that he would like to see the hero suffer brain damage and drown. Accepting Laurel & Hardy assignments, Sheldon and Calvin are equally amusing, working through more physical antics with bouncy charm and solid timing. Sands (who has the hair of ten men) is a slightly bland hero, yet his commitment to the part is commendable, zipping around the frame like a kid in a candy store. Of course, if handed an opportunity to swordfight with Bolger, anyone would be excited to participate in the picture. Funicello is lit like a princess and treated with respect. She has her thespian limitations (she was 18 years old when the movie was shot), but Funicello is here for marquee value and her ease with virginal appeal, finding her place in the effort without disrupting the flow. For added fun, a young Ann Jillian appears as Bo Peep in this, her feature-film debut.
Babes in Toyland Blu-ray, Video Quality
The AVC encoded image (1.67:1 aspect ratio, though the packaging lists 1.33:1) presentation is quite lovely, with the production's saturated Technicolor look accurately represented on Blu-ray. Working through a boldly colored series of sets and costumes, hues are rich and defined, with an appealing sense of primaries and skintones, finding Bolger's face an interesting study of skin and pancake make-up. A pleasing layer of grain retains a filmic quality. Sharpness is strong, keeping find details in play. The sets alone are extraordinary to study, while fabrics are textured and facial reactions crisp. Shadow detail is stable and expressive, never clouding the frame. Print is in good condition, without any noticeable damage.
Babes in Toyland Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Unexpectedly, there's only a Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix to contend with, keeping the film's energy tightly contained to the front stage. It's a thin track, though lacking any serious issues with shrillness, with music and dialogue passably balanced for a clean listening experience. Voices are easily identified, as are comedic speeds, which keep crisp and level, never exploding in intensity. There's no sign of hiss or distortion, but what's here is extremely basic in design, lacking that extra emphasis that would make the disc appealing for home theater use.
Babes in Toyland Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
There is no supplementary material offered on this disc.
Babes in Toyland Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
"Babes in Toyland" is wildly overlong, though the ending does introduce an army of stop-motion animated toy soldiers marching into battle against Barnaby, and there's fun in Grumio's toy-crafting inventions, which lends the picture a semi-sci-fi appeal. However, Donohue doesn't know when to quit, with the final 15 minutes devoted to battle scenes and general chaos that grows tiring just before it turns completely irritating. "Babes in Toyland" is a matinee diversion meant for kids, but it's also excessive, ignoring opportunities to simply further the plot and move along. However, it has numerous highlights along the way, maintaining reminders that beneath the superfluous monkey business and tuneless songs, there's a feisty Disney fantasy that's aching to please, laying the foundation for countless big screen delights to come.
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Babes in Toyland Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Babes in Toyland (1961) Blu-ray - October 6, 2012
Disney is bringing director Jack Donohue's Babes in Toyland to Blu-ray. The musical stars Ray Bolger (The Wizard of Oz), Annette Funicello (Beach Party), Tommy Sands (The Longest Day), and Disney veteran, Ed Wynn (Alice in Wonderland). Babes in Toyland makes its ...
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