Toyland Traditions

Toy1James H. Burns asks, “Is it possible for a classic to be overlooked? Laurel and Hardy’s Babes in Toyland (aka March of the Wooden Soldiers) may be remembered as a fun romp for the comedy legends, but it might also be one of the best fantasy films ever made. (It’s certainly one of the first creature movies lensed in the ‘sound era.’) In New York, and other parts of the country, broadcasts of the movie, beginning decades ago, became something of a Christmas tradition.”

Burns’s 2009 article March of the Wooden Soldiers: A New York Christmas TV Memory” for the Village Voice  discusses that annual TV tradition, the search for a print of the long version of the film, and the movie’s Disney connection – just about Mickey Mouse’s only appearance in a live action movie, played by a monkey in costume!

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10 thoughts on “Toyland Traditions

  1. It’s an offbeaat film. When my son was young–age three or four–he was attracted to the songs. As he got older, he began to shift his attention towards Stan and Ollie. It’s one of the last named roles for Snub Pollard.

    Hal Roached seemed to have a small stable of well trained animals. His films contained dogs, monkeys, goats, a bear…

    There was one other sidebar–Hal Roach wanted the film to be in color.

    And there was a note in THE LAUREL AND HARDY encyclopedia: Hal Roach thought OF MICE AND MEN would be a good vehicle for the boys. I couldn’t wrap my mind around that, wondering who would play Lenny.

  2. “Hal Roach thought OF MICE AND MEN would be a good vehicle for the boys. I couldn’t wrap my mind around that, wondering who would play Lenny.”
    Maybe they would divide up the dialogue between them. The movie version of ROOM SERVICE gives most of Faker’s lines to Harry, because Faker was played by Harpo (and Harry becomes “Harry Binelli”, to fit with Chico’s character). In GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE, Connie (Ann Sheridan) got the lines that Bill had had in the play, and Bill (Jack Benny) got most of Connie’s, because of the way their characters developed.
    So I can see a L&H version of OF MICE AND MEN with Lenny split into two characters. “Well, Lenny, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”

  3. OF MICE AND MEN is tragic and Laurel and Hardy are anything but. Lon Chaney Jr. was a lug and the sympathetic director pulled and worked out one of Chaney’s finest performances.

    Who gets to say, “tell me about the rabbits George”: Stan, or Ollie?

    My mind right now thinks it would have been a great three reeler, as a funny nightmare.

  4. What’s kind of neat, and I don’t think there was room to mention it jn the original piece, is that Barnaby REAPPEARS in a Little Rascals short, a while later, in an Alfalfa dream sequence, where he becomes an opera star, and Heny Kleinbach/Brandon is his nefarious manager! (And a Bogey Man also appears in a latter Rascals film!)

  5. That monkey in the mouse costume was the stuff of nightmares. The only other scene I can think of that was as mind-twistingly unnatural was some of the stuff in The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, as I saw it on b&w TV when I was six or seven.

  6. Taral, I loved that character when I was a kid–although, like many viewers I don’t believe I had a clue it was Mixkey! I’ve presumed, or wondered through the years, if the monkey star is the same as the fella who would appear in the era’s other Hal Roach produced films/shorts.

  7. Hal Roach’s studio’s seemed to have a chaupin monkey, (or more) in the studios, and they would fill in some gaps in an Our Gang Comedy –like accidently lighting matches, or opening the pen of a bear–which the kids wouldn’t or shouldn’t do.
    “Got any money, monkey?” asked George McFarland, age 4.

    5000 FINGERS OF DR T was a failure, not just because it was weird, but it asked to take kids seriously. I like the film, and sought out and found a soundtrack to it (it even has some outtakes).

  8. After decades of neglect, 5000 Fingers finally got a VHS release in the 1980s, and is currently available as a DVD. I first saw in in b/w, rather than colour. I think I was six or seven, because I was living in the same rural house I was in when I saw the first Sputnik in the night sky and heard “Nothing But a Hound Dog” on the radio. I didn’t watch the entire movie, but the scene where the kid climbs to the top of an endless ladder while wearing a beanie with an outstretched hand on it, then parachutes from the top with is t-shirt billowing outward, stuck in my mind like a near-death experience. Boy was it creepy.

  9. “March of the Wooden Soldiers” is actually a slightly shortened version of “Babes in Toyland”. The original version (which I saw once on YouTube) had more admiring footage of Toyland itself, and, I think, a little more of Victor Herbert’s music. Either way, the movie provided a template for future “Babes in Toyland” remakes, from the 1961 Disney version onwards. The plot of the original 1903 operetta was apparently quite different, and Wikipedia reports that a new libretto for a 1970s revival changed the story yet again.

  10. And I wrote the previous post before reading the attached Village Voice article, which covers the same territory. It pays to read carefully!

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