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March of the Wooden Soldiers 3D(1934)
Ollie Dee and Stanley Dum try to borrow money from their employer, the toymaker, to pay off the mortgage on Mother Peep's shoe and keep it and Little Bo Peep from the clutches of the evil Barnaby. When that fails, they trick Barnaby into marrying Stanley Dum instead of Bo Peep. Enraged, Barnaby unleashes the bogeymen from their caverns to destroy Toyland.
For more about March of the Wooden Soldiers 3D and the March of the Wooden Soldiers 3D Blu-ray release, see March of the Wooden Soldiers 3D Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on December 6, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charlotte Henry, Felix Knight, Henry Brandon, Virginia Karns
Directors: Gus Meins, Charley Rogers
» See full cast & crew
March of the Wooden Soldiers 3D Blu-ray Review
Do 3D and lossless audio upgrades make this worth a double dip?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, December 6, 2012
There are a number of offerings in various media that have become associated with certain seasons or holidays despite having little if anything to do with them. A perfect example might be the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic "My Favorite Things", from their enduring musical The Sound of Music, a song which makes a couple of tangential wintry holiday references (brown paper packages tied up in strings and snowflakes on eyelashes, to be specific), but which has become a rather long lasting Christmas music (and/or Muzak) "evergreen" (pun intended). In the religious irony department, The Ten Commandments has become an Eastertide regular due to being regularly broadcast for years around the Christian holiday, when of course it is actually about the Jews and their sometimes (not always) relatively simultaneous holiday of Passover. (Older viewers may well remember a similar circumstance with The Wizard of Oz, which for years was broadcast around Thanksgiving, despite having absolutely nothing to do with that—or really any—holiday.) In another case of perhaps unintended irony, Legend Films via their imprint 3D Classics is marketing March of the Wooden Soldiers (originally titled Babes in Toyland, after its supposed source operetta by Victor Herbert) as a Christmas release, replete with opening menu featuring a wintry scene and charming falling snowflakes. The irony is that while Herbert's original outing did indeed have at least a tangential relationship to Christmas, the film version jettisons so much of Herbert's original conception that any real connection to the holiday is all but lost in the cinematic treatment. The film is still often a charming entertainment (if awfully strange at times), and Legend, long known for its 3D post- conversions, has now gone back to the stereoscopic drawing board and refitted one of the few feature length movies to star the legendary Laurel and Hardy.
Despite this version having next to nothing to do with Herbert's original, and despite the additional fact that it only contains a handful or so of Herbert's charming (though admittedly lengthy) score, March of the Wooden Soldiers (I'll default to this title for convenience sake) does offer a certain amount of charm and entertainment value. The villain from the original operetta, Silas Barnaby (Henry Brandon), is ported over from the Herbert operetta, but here he has his eyes set on Little Bo Peep (Charlotte Henry), who isn't all that little (if you catch my drift). Stan and Ollie are on hand as fanciful semi-versions of Tweedledum and Tweedledee (this film is nothing if not eclectic in its appropriation of various characters from various sources), who are attempting throughout the film to rescue The Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe (Florence Roberts), who is also Bo Peep's mother, from defaulting on her mortgage, which is owned, Snidely Whiplash-style, by Silas (of course). The film is an odd series of adventures that includes everything from The Three Pigs (in some of the most inadvertently frightening makeup ever) to a Mickey Mouse type character (played by a monkey in a mouse suit and, no, I'm not making that up). If the film rarely makes a whole lot of sense, and is only very tangentially related to the original Herbert conception of Toyland, it is so outré at times that it can't help but be enjoyable in a goofily quasi-camp way, if nothing else.
March of the Wooden Soldiers, despite running only 77 minutes or so (some online databases have a 79 minute running time for the supposedly unedited version, though this print doesn't betray any signs of egregious cuts), might be felt by some to have overstayed its welcome, once Bo Peep seems to be (no pun intended) out of the woods, and then another whole second calamity strikes her, her boyfriend Tom Tom the Piper's Son (Felix Night), and Mother Peep. This actually sets the plot careening toward its lunatic finale, which finds Stan cross-dressed, and an army of mutant toy soldiers running amok. It's quite redolent of some of the older Roach comedies, and even harkens back to the really lunatic days of the Mack Sennett comedies, as a series of sight gags unspools, one after the other.
The film is a rather impressively designed outing, especially for the relatively primitive days of 1934. Both costumes and sets are fanciful, and the special effects, while perhaps laughable by today's standards, are suitably whimsical and help to create the otherworldly ambience that is necessary for children of all ages to invest themselves in the supposed reality of Toyland. Stan and Ollie are actually quite wonderful in what amount to at least somewhat unusual roles for both of them. While we still have Stan's seemingly eternal ineptitude and Ollie's equally eternal bluster on nonstop display here, the two manage to integrate rather surprisingly well into a fantasy world filled with make believe characters. Stan and Ollie are kind of make believe characters themselves when you get right down to it, and they seem perfectly at home in the wacky world of Toyland. Chances are most audience members will, too.
March of the Wooden Soldiers 3D Blu-ray, Video Quality
There has been a bit of confusion over these newer 3D offerings from Legend Film's 3D Classics imprint, including previous releases of The Three Stooges in 3D and The Best of The Little Rascals in 3D. Like those releases, March of the Wooden Soldiers in 3D offers both MVC (3D) and AVC (2D) encoded 1080p transfers in 1.34:1. While there is no option to play either the 2D or 3D version, the discs automatically recognize the playback equipment and boot the appropriate version depending on whether 3D capability is sensed. This new 3D release does not feature the original black and white version of Babes in Toyland that was included on March of the Wooden Soldiers.
As I mentioned in my review of the first release of this title, Legend typically does very good to excellent work in restoring older films, and they have sourced this March of the Wooden Soldiers from what appears to be a very good condition 35mm print in what I'm assuming is the full running time (if any scholar out there can provide documentary evidence of the difference between the claimed 79 running minute time and this feature's 77 minute-plus running time, let me know and I can update the review). While there are still flecks and scratches to be seen, the print has been cleaned rather well, and while there's little doubt that noise reduction has been applied, it hasn't risen to smeary, waxy levels. While the image is never crystal clear or eye- poppingly sharp and well detailed, it's definitely well above average for a public domain title sourced from a print. What may bother some videophiles are some issues with contrast, as well as recurrent registration and flickering issues. Overall, though, the transfer is remarkably spry considering the age and public domain provenance of the film. It's to Legend's credit that their colorizing process doesn't slather on slabs of impossible hues, and is in fact really rather subdued as far as these efforts usually go.
In terms of the 3D post-conversion, Legend, one of the forerunners in this technology, has once again done a largely admirable job, though the film doesn't really offer enough source material in terms of depth of field or framings to really totally justify the effort. When the film does offer an object or character clearly in the forefront, there is an appealing dimensionality, but a lot of this film is rather "flat" looking, obviously one of the limitations of its early vintage when camera setups were more challenging (a great example is the dolly into Mother Goose at the head of the film, where you almost feel like the camera is going to fall over from its bobbing and weaving). This particular effort is probably about halfway between The Best of the Little Rascals in 3D and The Three Stooges in 3D in terms of its depth and visual immersion. What's here looks fine, but there simply isn't a lot to work with.
March of the Wooden Soldiers 3D Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Perhaps surprisingly, unlike the first release of March of the Wooden Soldiers (which featured only a lossy mono track delivered via Dolby Digital 2.0), Legend has gone the extra step by upgrading the audio on this release to DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (once again pumping out the mono track on two channels). Despite the common assertion that "lossless is necessarily better", the results here are decidedly mixed and ironically some may actually prefer the Dolby Digital version on the previous release, as it better masks the very audible hiss and brittleness that are very much in evidence on this track's high end. This lossless rendering also reveals more of the "warts and all" damage the track has endured through the years. While there may be some negligible boosting of the lower end of things, the midrange sounds decidedly boxy and narrow and overall this isn't an extremely pleasing sonic experience, especially in the musical moments which simply don't gain much if anything from the lossless offering.
March of the Wooden Soldiers 3D Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unlike the first release of March of the Wooden Soldiers, which featured some appealing supplements (not to mention the film in its original black and white version), this new 3D release offers no supplements whatsoever.
March of the Wooden Soldiers 3D Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
This new 3D release of Babes in Toyland (or March of the Wooden Soldiers if you prefer) is one of those "glass half full or half empty" quandaries. While those who have upgraded to 3D equipment and are jonesin' to see Oliver Hardy's rotundity protruding out into their home theater environment may well want to spring for this release (or double dip if they purchased the previous version), they should keep in mind that while there's nothing horrible about the 3D post-conversion here, there's also not much that's truly spectacular either. And while the upgrade to lossless audio may sound (pun intended) like a good idea, it turns out to have its own drawbacks as well. Still, the film is charming, and downright weird in its own way. With a number of caveats, this release comes marginally Recommended.
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