Before baking this weekend I decided to hunt around on my Netflix instant queue for something Christmassy to get me in the mood and lo and behold, I found a TV remake of Babes in Toyland that was made in the 1980s. Intrigued by this, and surprised that Drew Barrymore was in it, I decided to watch it and wow...talk about films that are different! But this isn't where I usually evaluate movies, this is where I introduce them. So imagine a film that begins in present day Cincinnati, Ohio during the Christmas season that then transports it's main character to toyland to interact with the Mother Goose characters we met in the Disney version. Its a little strange, a little fun, and a little bad and so I decided to share it here today in order to show just how different remakes can be. So without further ado I give you Babes in Toyland.
Lisa Piper is an 11-year-old girl from Cincinnati, Ohio who has been forced to grow up very quickly due to her mother being single and having to help out around the house with her big sister Mary, who works at a local toy store to help make ends meet. Lisa doesn't have much use for Christmas and toys, preferring more practical things like a new blender for the kitchen and time off for her mother. One night, when Lisa's mother is stuck in a snow storm, Lisa rushes to the toy store to warn Mary and Jack, the boy who Mary likes, that the blizzard is coming and they rush off. A bad twist of fate sends Lisa down a hill where she hits a tree and suddenly finds herself descending into Toyland, a colorful village populated by toys and nursery rhyme characters. Lisa immediatly becomes a nuisance to Mr. Barnaby, the town villain, who is trying to marry Mary Contrary to get her property, much to the dismay of Jack Be Nimble who loves her. Lisa tells Barnaby where he can stick it and so Barnaby, now unable to manipulate Mary into marrying him, sets into motion an evil plan to capture all of Toyland. It is then up to Lisa, Mary, Jack, and Georgie Porgie to save the day so that Toyland can have its toys ready for Christmas. If they don't succeed, it may be the end of Christmas for everyone.
This loose adaptation of the original operetta bears little resemblance to the original work and indeed, only includes two songs from that. The rest of the songs were written by Leslie Bricusse, who also worked on Scrooge. It is a strange franken-production that calls to mind more similarities with The Wizard of Oz than it does with Toyland. I almost wonder if the producers weren't trying to remake Oz and simply couldn't get permission (since at the time, Disney was making Return to Oz) and so they did Toyland instead. The celebrity cast really surprised me as well, as I was expecting to only recognize Barrymore...imagine my surprise when Eileen Brennan (Clue), Richard Mulligan ("The Golden Girls" and "Empty Nest") and Keanu Reeves showed up as leads...who sing! Yes friends, Keanu sings (at least according to all the sources I checked...no one was listed as having been dubbed for this film) and that alone was worth sitting through it. I really enjoyed the first part of this film, which was set in Cincy and looked like it was made with a decent sized budget...but once we got to Toyland I found my attention waning and the similarities between it and Oz grew too frequent to keep me from being distracted. That isn't to say that this isn't fun...it's certainly a better all around experience than the Disney one I wrote about last week and at least it has the definate Christmas connection, but it's not the best thing you'll ever watch. If you do watch it, do so on Hulu or Netflix where it can be streamed cheaply...do not pay.