One of my fondests memories from childhood at Christmas was imagining what Santa's workshop looked like. I remember feeling like I got a pretty good look at it in Santa Claus: The Movie, but I still couldn't be sure. Afterall, that film portrayed it as a workshop that simply made old-fashioned toys...so where did those Ghostbusters that Santa got me come from? Certainly he doesn't go to Toys R' US or the Mall, that would just spoil the mystique. I asked my mother and she said that Santa went to Toyland for that stuff, because that's where toys really come from. This was good enough for my blind faith and I went on believing in a Toyland for several years after...so you can imagine my delight when as a young child I came across this Disney film from 1961. It had music, bright colors, wild dances, a massive battle, and it prominantly featured Toyland...and it was just how I pictured it. Now imagine my surprise in finding that this film is listed among others on a full on list of Christmas movies...I never knew it had anything to do with Christmas. So without further ado, let's take a trip to Mother Goose Village and watch Babes in Toyland.
All the citizens of Mother Goose Village are very excited today because, after what seems like much too long, Tom Piper and Mary Contrary are finally getting married. To mark the occasion, a celebration is given to the happy couple and features, among other celebrities, Little Boy Blue, Simple Simon, Bo Peep and her Sheep, and Jack-Be-Nimble. The only person who doesn't attend is Barnaby, the Crooked Man who lived in a Crooked House. Barnaby is jealous and enraged at Tom for stealing Mary and her generous inheritence away from him, so he arranges for Tom to be kidnapped and thrown into the sea. Then, after ensuring that Bo Peep's sheep are stolen and taken into The Forest of No Return and Mary cannot make any money off of them, Barnaby makes his offer of marriage to Mary. Bo Peep, Boy Blue, and Willie Winkie, seeing how distraught Mary is, venture into the Forest of No Return to find them. Mary and Tom, who are reunited by gypsies, then must set out to find them and rescue them from the forest...which turns out to be the outer border of Toyland. A great chase ensues to see who will come back from the forest intact...our cheerful leads or the evil Barnaby.
Surprise, Babes in Toyland really has nothing to do with Christmas aside from a winter finale and references to Christmas when the children are helping the Toymaker in his workshop in scenic Toyland. Otherwise, this film makes me think more of Spring and Summer than anything else with it's bright floral colors and references to the warm ocean and lemonade. Still, considering that Toyland acts a a huge production floor for Santa and the toy shops of the world, I suppose I can count it by a very thin margin. As for the film itself, it is a decent if cloying adaptation of Glen MacDonough's famous operetta, with new lyrics by George Burns. Performances by the veteren cast are fine, with Ray Bolger and Ed Wynn carrying much of the weight as Barnaby and the Toymaker respectively, but the young protagonists, especially Mickey Mouse Club Favorite Annette, are rather bland and lifeless. Annette especially seems to have only two expressions, mild surprise and dreamy wistfulness. Her voice and look fits the part, but paired with actors who are much more willing to give into the silliness of the piece, she tends to look emotionless and lifeless. I can't really recommend this film as one that adults, as well as kids, will enjoy...but I can say that if you have little ones in the house they will certainly enjoy this colorful musical. You grown ups, however, will probably just need to grin and bear it.