Babes in Toyland (1961) starring Ray Bolger, Annette Funicello, Tommy Kirk, Ed Wynn
I am a large fan of Laurel and Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldier, a wonderful children’s story for adults–which, among other things, had a live-action version of Mickey Mouse appear. This was done with Walt Disney’s permission, since he and producer Hal Roach were close friends. In the same way, Walt Disney’s version of the story, Babes in Toyland had a comedy team impersonating Laurel and Hardy — and although I saw it many years ago as a child, I was eager to see it again as an adult.
Babes in Toyland after all had several of my favorite actors — Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz), Ed Wynn (Alice in Wonderland, Mary Poppins), Annette Funicello, Tommy Kirk (The Absent-minded Professor, The Shaggy Dog) — so how could they go wrong? Quite easily, as it turns out.
Babes in Toyland was Walt Disney’s first attempt at a live action musical, and they thankfully learned a lot from it to make their future productions (Mary Poppins among others) a success; but Babes in Toyland was a failure, both commercially and critically. There were several issues:
- Casting: Roy Bolger is a wonderful dancer, who’s given very little dancing to do. In addition, Whe’s simply too likable to be believable as the villainous Barnaby.
- Forced musical numbers: there are simply too many musical numbers, that are too slow, and cause the audience to lose interest
- Wasted talent: Ed Wynn was one of the funniest men alive at the time Babes in Toyland was made, and was frankly given too little to do — when he was onscreen he was very funny, but he frankly wasn’t onscreen enough; and when he was, the script didn’t give him enough latitude to work out his humor.