Babes in Toyland (1961)

Genres - Fantasy, Musical, Children's/Family, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Children's Fantasy, Musical Fantasy  |   Release Date - Dec 14, 1961 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 106 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - G
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Review by Craig Butler

Young children tend to enjoy Babes in Toyland immensely, but older viewers find it rather tough going. Certainly, there are assets for everyone, starting with the sterling Victor Herbert score, which -- even in the "contemporized" version heard here -- is full of melodies that soar gracefully and land with just the right lilt upon the ear. Toyland also has some delightful costumes, and the look of the fairy tale characters is a treat. Though the sets are a bit too artificial, they're undeniably colorful and eye catching. And the climactic "March of the Toy Soldiers" sequence is quite fun to watch. And visually, director Jack Donohue has found some imaginative ways to capture the environs on film. But the picture never comes together the way it should. The story is really nothing but a sketch, there's no real menace to the villain, the tone is fudged constantly, the pieces don't hang together and -- most damagingly of all -- no one but the very young really cares about the characters or what happens to them. Of the cast, Ed Wynn is a lot of fun, but Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands are flat and dull as the young leads. Tommy Kirk has some good moments, which is more than can be said for Henry Calvin and Gene Sheldon, given the unenviable task of competing with the memory of Laurel and Hardy in these roles in a much better earlier version. Ray Bolger tries very hard, but making this villain a comic character is the wrong decision, and ultimately even Bolger's skill can't keep the character from becoming tiresome. In the end, the biggest problem with Toyland seems to be that its creators didn't really believe in it -- and so all their hard work to make it magical instead just makes it mechanical.