Babes in Toyland began as a 1903 operetta by popular American composer Victor Herbert in which Fairy Tale and Mother Goose characters acted out a fairly standard Babes-In-The-Wood plot in Toyland, where Evil Uncle Barnaby has attempted to do away with his niece and nephew Jane and Alan — and incidentally to steal Alan's lady love, Contrary Mary. The operetta featured some of Herbert's most famous musical pieces, such as "Castle In Spain," "Go To Sleep, Slumber Deep," "I Can't Do The Sum," the "March of the Toys," and "Toyland."In 1934 a film version starring Laurel and Hardy was made. The film is also known by its alternate titles Laurel and Hardy in Toyland, Revenge Is Sweet, March of the Wooden Soldiers and Wooden Soldiers. The film follows Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in their misadventures, attempting to thwart the villainous Mr. Barnaby (the "crooked little man" from the nursery rhyme) in his lascivious designs upon the heroine, Little Bo-Peep.In 1961 Walt Disney Productions made a Live-Action version, starring Annette Funicello as Mary Contrary, Ray Bolger as Barnaby, Tommy Sands as Tom, Tom the Piper's Son, and Ed Wynn as the Toymaker. Barnaby's henchmen were portrayed by Henry Calvin and Gene Sheldon in a manner directly reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy from the 1934 film.Notable TV versions include a 1986 Live Action Television version featuring Drew Barrymore and Keanu Reeves, and a 1997Animated Adaptation by Toby Bluth (brother of Don).Not to be confused with The NinetiesAlternative Rock band Babes In Toyland.
Tropes used in the various versions of Babes in Toyland include:
Adaptation Name Change: The hero's girlfriend has different names in various versions, but a fairly consistent personality.
Axe Crazy: Played for laughs in the Disney version: Barnaby orders his henchmen to throw Tom into the sea, then steal Mary's sheep. The Speechless Roderigo expresses a desire to kill Tom and the sheep instead, but gets rejected.
Bride and Switch: In the 1934 version, Little Bo Peep agrees to marry Barnaby so that he'll settle the mortgage on Mother Peep's shoe house. However, he's tricked into marrying Stanley Dum, who had dressed up as the bride and hidden his face with the veil.
Casting Gag: The Disney movie has Tommy Kirk play the toymaker's apprentice, Grumio, an aspiring Gadgeteer Genius. Kirk previously played a young inventor in The Shaggy Dog, and later played yet another one in The Misadventures of Merlin Jones and The Monkey's Uncle (with none other than Annette Funicello co-starring as his girlfriend).
The Cavalry: The Wooden Soldiers in the Laurel and Hardy version.
Cut Song: The 1986 version was originally 150 minutes long when it aired on NBC, but was subsequently cut to 94 minutes for an overseas theatrical release. This is the version that was released on video and to TV syndication, and at least three songs were lost in the process.
Didn't Think This Through: In the Disney version, after Grumio invents a shrinking gun to reduce furniture to toy size, the Toymaker is ecstatic — until Tom and Mary ask the Toymaker, "Where are you going to get big things to reduce to small things?" The Toymaker then asks Grumio the same question, but Grumio can't think of an answer. The Toymaker is not impressed.
Disney Acid Sequence: The Disney film version has the song "I Can't do the Sum", during which Mary Contrary (played by Annette Funicello) sings mostly on a black background, with duplicates who flip upside down and sideways while changing colors.
In the Disney movie, Gonzorgo and Roderigo seem to evoke Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel, as well as Zorro characters Sergeant García and Bernardo (who Henry Calvin and Gene Sheldon portrayed prior to Babes in Toyland).
Also, the character design for Bowler Hat Guy in Disney's Meet the Robinsons seems to be based directly on Ray Bolger's Mr. Barnaby from the Disney version of this story.
Expys abound in the 1997 version. To wit: Mary = Belle and Scat(Barnaby's Cat) = Azriel.
Forgotten Trope: Babes in Toyland is the only surviving example of the "extravaganza," the American equivalent of English pantomime, which was a family-friendly type of musical using typical pantomime characters and settings. In the first decade of the twentieth century, stage adaptations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (which had L. Frank Baum's involvement) and Little Nemo followed the extravaganza format; the genre survived until the Great Depression.
Fluffy Fashion Feathers: When Mary and Tom marry at the end of the 1961 version, Mary is given a red cape trimmed with white feathers, and a white feather muff.
Funny Background Event: In the 1961 Disney version, you can spot a woman accidentally close her dress in the door as she goes back inside her house.
Have a Gay Old Time: Today, "babe" is more commonly used to mean "attractive woman" than "child"; the odd (to modern ears) choice of words in the title being retained by remakes is probably the Grandfather Clause at work.
Necessary Fail: The 1961 movie provides a real-life example for Walt Disney. After it failed to make a splash at the box office, he looked for some elements that he could improve on next time he would do a fantasy musical, such as production values, substance, and casting. By managing not to repeat the same mistakes of Babes in Toyland, Walt's next fantasy musical became one of the most beloved movies of his career — Mary Poppins.
Neutral Female: In the Disney version, the hero and the villain are both shrunk down to toy size and then begin to engage in a swordfight while the normal-sized heroine watches them, very concerned. She could have just stepped on the bad guy! (Granted, she could have easily caught the hero, too! Or she just didn't think she could live with committing a cold-blooded murder...)
Rewritten Pop Version: Disney's movie alters the lyrics to several songs. Justified because the new lyrics correspond with the rewritten plot better than the original versions would have.
Shout-Out: In the 1986 version, one of Barnaby's henchmen resembles Nosferatu; the other looks a lot like Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Although it's not in the original operetta, Barnaby along with his henchmen in the Disney and Francoeur versions gets "We Won't Be Happy 'Til We Get It" in which he's cheerfully villainous, admitted he has no real excuse for it. Notable in that in the Francoeur version it's the very first song, so as to leave no doubt as to who the Bad Guy is supposed to be. "We'll forge a check, or cut your neck, if we can make a dime!"