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Theatre / Babes in Toyland

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"Toyland, Toyland, dear little girl and boy land.
While you dwell within it, you are ever happy there."

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 filmnote  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. It marked Disney's first all-live-action musical, and after they began refusing to acknowledge Song of the South, they instead declared Babes their first live-action musical overall.

In 1975, the Light Opera of Manhattan, with the approval of the Victor Herbert Foundation, presented an adaptation with a new book and lyrics by Alice Hammerstein Mathias (daughter of Oscar Hammerstein II) that ran every holiday season in New York from 1975-88 and still tours occasionally. In this version, Jane and Alan feel neglected by their workaholic, discipline-minded parents, so they run away to Toyland in the belief they will be happier there; they are welcomed by the Toymaker, who cautions them against falling too far under Toyland's spell, but the singing and dancing toys are too much for the siblings to resist. Barnaby is replaced as the main villain by a corrupt detective whom Jane and Alan's parents send to Toyland to retrieve them; once there, he forces the children to help him steal a new toy soldier design from the Toymaker. The music is largely unchanged, although it includes a few melodies from other Herbert operettas.


Notable TV versions include a 1986 Live Action Television version featuring Drew Barrymore and Keanu Reeves, and a 1997 Animated Adaptation by Toby Bluth (brother of Don).

Not to be confused with The '90s Alternative Rock band Babes in Toyland.

Tropes used across various versions of Babes in Toyland include:

  • Adaptational Heroism: In the original stage version, Barnaby's not actually the main villain. Yes, he seems to be at first, since he's actively trying to harm his child relations... But then he joins forces with a character called the Master Toymaker, who's actively trying to harm all children. Later adaptations have been almost unanimous in deciding that's just too many villains, and completely rewriting the Toymaker character into a good guy. Taken Up to Eleven in the 1986 version, where the Toymaker isn't just promoted to harmless... he's promoted all the way up to being Santa Claus in disguise.
  • Adaptation Name Change: The hero's girlfriend has different names in various versions, but a fairly consistent personality.
  • Aside Glance: See Breaking the Fourth Wall.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The Disney version has at least two scenes in which characters talk to the viewers. And of course, in the earlier film version, Ollie does his legendary exasperated look toward the camera every time Stan does something frustrating.
  • Big "NO!": Bill Francoeur's stage version gives one to Barnaby and his henchmen shortly after their defeat sequence.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The loophole-infested Toyland laws in the original stage version.
    • The toy soldiers in the 1934 and 1961 film versions.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: Mr. Barnaby, especially as depicted by Ray Bolger in the Disney version.
  • Dirty Old Man: Barnaby.
  • Disney Death:
    • Tom in the 1961 film, although it was hoaxed in the first place.
    • Humpty Dumpty in the 1997 version is dropped off of a bridge by Barnaby, but is repaired by Tom at the end.
  • Evil Wears Black: Barnaby wears all black outfits in most versions, compared to the colorful outfits of the rest of the cast.
  • Expy:
    • In the 1934 version, there's a mouse who looks suspiciously like, well, THE Mouse.
    • 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).
    • 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) = Azrael.
  • Fairytale Wedding Dress: Mary at the end of some of the film versions.
  • Family-Friendly Firearms: In the Disney version, the final battle against Barnaby is fought with toy guns which fire nothing more lethal than corks and rubber darts.
  • 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.
  • Frame-Up:
    • In the 1934 version Barnaby pignaps Little Elmer and blames Tom-Tom.
    • In the 1986 version Barnaby hides a stash of cookies (which is the source of their economy) and claims Jack stole them.
  • Fun-Hating Villain: In most iterations, Barnaby only cares about money and tries to destroy Toyland by any means necessary.
  • Gold Digger: Barnaby, especially in the film versions.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Today, "babe" is more commonly used to mean "attractive woman" than "child" or "innocent person"; the odd (to modern ears) choice of words in the title being retained by remakes is probably the Grandfather Clause at work.
    • "Never Mind, Bo Peep" also contains the lyric "So be gay, Bo Peep"
  • Large Ham: Barnaby, especially in the film versions. (The stage version includes an even larger ham villain, the Master Toymaker. In one recording of the score, he's played by Ian McKellen at his most Shakespearean.)
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In the 1961 film, Barnaby is shrunk by Mary, whom he has been trying to force to marry him for her money (with the shrink gun he has been using for his latest plan no less), and Tom, whom he has spent the entire film trying to kill, defeats and presumably kills him in a swordfight.
  • Living Toys
  • Mook–Face Turn: In most versions, Barnaby's henchmen turn on him and help the hero.
  • Sugar Bowl: Though not without elements of Satire and occasionally horror.
  • Sword Fight: The Disney version features one between Tom and Barnaby.
  • Uncertain Doom: Commonly played with Barnaby in the film adaptations. In the 1986 film, he is implied to be killed by his trolls when they turn against him. In the animated film, he is last seen being chased by goblins, presumably to be eaten, after insulting their recently-deceased king. In the 1961 film, his fate seems a little less ambiguous, as he is stabbed by Tom during their swordfight and falls from a great height into a toy box, and is never seen again afterwards, but publicity stills and the comic adaptation change the ending so he is imprisoned in the bird cage rather than stabbed, making his fate seem more ambiguous to some. Ironically, in the original story his death is definitive when he drinks poison.
  • Villainous Crush: Barnaby on...well, somebody, depending on the version. It's usually Mary, and occasionally Bo-Peep.
  • Villain Song:
    • Although it's not a villain song 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!"
    • "Monsterpiece" for Barnaby in the 1986 version.
    • There's also "A Crooked Man" from the 1997 version, which doubles as a "The Villain Sucks" Song: his backup singers are clearly not pleased with him, but Barnaby takes their slams on his character as compliments nonetheless.
  • You Monster!:
    • In the 1934 version, when Barnaby frames Tom-Tom for pig-napping, an upset Little Bo-Beep calls Barnaby a monster.
    • In the 1961 version, the Toymaker calls Barnaby a monster and an ogre for intruding on his premises, shrinking him with the shrinking gun, and kidnapping him for his bidding.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • The Master Toymaker, the Big Bad in the original stage version, is a Childcatcher-like figure attempting to find ways of exterminating children.
    • In the 1934 film, the Bogeymen have no qualms about kidnapping the children of Toyland. One even tries to attack Rock-a-Bye-Baby on the Treetop. Thankfully, a well-timed peewee saves the day.

Tropes specific to the 1934 Babes in Toyland include:

  • Malaproper: When it appears Bo-Peep will be forced to marry Barnaby, Stan claims to be "housebroken".
  • Syndication Title: The film was retitled March of the Wooden Soldiers when the movie began airing on television, many years before the 1961 Disney remake was produced.

Tropes specific to the 1961 Babes in Toyland include:

  • And I'm the Queen of Sheba: In reference to his plans to get married to Mary, Barnaby tells the village, "You are looking at a happy man!", to which Sylvester the goose tells Mother Goose, "If he's happy, I'm a chicken!"
  • Ax-Crazy: Played for laughs: 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.
    Barnaby: No — steal them!
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: Barnaby's henchmen in the Disney movie, Gonzorgo and Roderigo.
  • Breakout Character: The Stop Motion wooden soldiers went on to star in Disneyland's Christmas parade.
  • Captain Obvious: The Toymaker when he overloads Grumio's toymaking machine, when the machine has already begun exploding after ejecting a mountain of broken toys.
    Toymaker: Grumio, I think something's wrong!
  • Covers Always Lie: The DVD cover of the Disney version makes Mary look shorter than the Wooden Soldiers, as if to suggest that she gets shrunken at one point.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sylvester the goose.
  • Didn't Think This Through: 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 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.
  • Ditzy Genius: Grumio's first invention, the toy-making machine, is actually effective at creating toys automatically, though it can get easily overloaded without proper application. His second invention is a shrink ray that actually results in a net loss in resource management.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Grumio's second invention is a shrink ray that can essentially convert furniture into toy versions. Observant viewers would immediately think this is counterproductive, as it would take many resources to build full-sized furniture only to shrink it down while simply building the toys from scratch would be far more efficient. Indeed, Tom & Mary ask the Toymaker "Where are you going to get big things to reduce to small things?"
  • Funny Background Event: You can spot a woman accidentally close her dress in the door as she goes back inside her house. Just so you know: it's when Barnaby's henchmen announce the town meeting to announce Barnaby's marriage to Mary.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Barnaby uses Grumio's shrinking gun on Tom, with the threat of shrinking him away into nothingness, to force Mary into marrying Barnaby. When Tom launches his attack on Barnaby, Barnaby decides to make good on his threat, but Mary grabs a toy cannon used in the attack and fires a shot at the shrinking gun. The gun is destroyed and the shrinking liquid inside spills on Barnaby, shrinking him down to toy size instead and forcing him to confront Tom in a Sword Fight.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: The Forest of No Return.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: Barnaby shrinks Tom, the toymaker, and his own henchmen during the climax. Thanks to Mary, Barnaby himself eventually becomes small as well.
  • Live-Action Cartoon: The movie itself does have a cartoonish nature in it, including the characters, costume designs and locations.
  • Magic Skirt: During the "I Can't Do The Sum" sequence, Mary stands on her hands and her skirt still stays up with no reveal of her underwear.
  • Neutral Female: 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...)
  • Never My Fault: Played straight when Grumio's toymaking machine goes out of control up to the point where it explodes and falls apart. The Toymaker berates him, blaming him for faulty construction, but the disaster was actually caused by the Toymaker's own careless misuse of the controls. Somewhat averted later on when Grumio invents a gun that can shrink objects down to toy size, which the Toymaker approves of... until Tom asks where they will be able to find big things to shrink. As noted above, it turns out Grumio really didn't take time to consider this.
  • Pretty in Mink: When Mary and Tom marry, Mary is given a red cape trimmed with white fox, and a white fox muff.
  • 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.
  • Seduction Lyric: In the 1961 film, "Castle in Spain" is a Villain Love Song in which the villain seeks to seduce a woman with the offer of material goods — "You'll eat nothing but cake / You'll drink naught but champagne / You'll be in on the take / In our castle in Spain". Admittedly the villain is supposedly trying to seduce his target into marriage rather than sex as such, but this is a 1961 Disney movie, and it's easy to see this as a metaphor, especially given the song's last lines: "You have caught me today / In a generous vein. / Come now, what do you say? / To our castle in / ahh... ahh... ahh... ahh... Spain!"
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace / This Means War!: Let's just say, given the battle he and the toy soldiers launch on Mary and Barnaby's wedding, Tom really objects.
  • Sword Cane: Having been shrunk himself to toy size just like Tom, Barnaby is held by Tom at sword point, but he pulls on the head of his cane, which pulls free with no effort, revealing that it's actually a sword in disguise. This leads to a...
  • Sword Fight: This is the climax of the film, between Tom and Barnaby, both having been shrunk to toy size. Naturally, Barnaby loses.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Honestly, everyone could've been spared a lot of trouble if not for the Toymaker's arrogance and carelessness, constantly undermining Grumio's inventions and having a poor temper at that. So inattentive is he that he literally throws the shrink ray into Barnaby's hands when he tosses the "failed" device out the window, creating a world of trouble for everybody present.
  • Villain Love Song: "Castle in Spain", sung by Ray Bolger in the 1961 film, later memorably covered by Buster Poindexter on the Stay Awake Disney Cover Album.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The sheep, which are so crucial to Mary's livelihood and whose kidnapping to the forest of no return drives the second half of the story, discovery of Toyland, climactic battle, etc., never come up again, even after Barnaby's defeat. Bo Peep is even seen in full dress and holding a crook at the end, but with no sheep to look after. Did they get rescued or not?
  • When Trees Attack: The Gumps are animated trees with faces. They capture travellers in the night and escort them to the Toymaker.

Tropes specific to the 1986 Babes in Toyland include:

Alternative Title(s): Babes In Toyland