Length: 106 min
Release Date: December 14, 1961
Directed by: Jack Donohue
Genre: Family, Musical, Fantasy
Rating: 3 out of 5
“Babes in Toyland” is a classic 1961 film that brings Mother Goose nursery rhyme characters to life in vivid color. Mary Quite Contrary is a beautiful young woman who works with Little Bo Peep and is engaged to marry a young man named Tom, the Piper’s Son. Unfortunately, Mary’s fantastical world is turned upside down when the nefarious Barnaby drowns Mary’s beloved and runs off with all her sheep. Thrown into poverty, a stark contrast from her fairytale life, Mary has no choice but to marry Barnaby for financial security. What Barnaby doesn’t know is that his evil plan has been foiled by his bumbling and conniving henchmen who sold Tom to a traveling group rather than killing him.
The rest of the film follows Tom in his quest to reunite with Mary and the others. The small group sets out to make their way to the beautiful but distant Toyland where they can finally live out their days in peace and merriment. Of course, the evil Barnaby will do all he can to thwart them, sending plenty of trouble and obstacles to them along the way.
Mother Goose has never had a more fantastical film adaptation, or one more beloved, than “Babes in Toyland.” Director Jack Donohue has since become a filmmaking legend, although the film was underrated at the time of its debut. Decades later, “Babes in Toyland” holds onto its cult following as one of the most popular holiday films of all time. The movie may be filmed in live action, but it is filled with cartoonish antics and imaginative characters and visuals, bringing the feel of its storybook world to life.
“Babes in Toyland” stars Hollywood icon Annette Funnicello as the wide-eyed Mary Contrary, and Tommy Sands portrays Tom Piper. Annette Funnicello has a massive following of her own even decades after the height of her film career, and her portrayal of Mary Contrary is one of her most stand-out performances. The film may feature plenty of outdated special effects, but those only serve to add to its quirky charm. This adventure is a bright and whimsical addition to any holiday movie collection, making it the perfect choice to watch with family of all ages. In fact, even though “Babes in Toyland” was made more than fifty years ago, it still has its regular run around the holiday season.
Although the film may seem silly and lighthearted, it has a surprising amount of depth for its genre. With just the right blend of musical comedy and drama, the storyline is sure to hold even the pickiest viewer’s attention. Tom’s journey is filled with suspense and danger as he attempts to dodge the cruel efforts of Barnaby and his henchmen, and the group encounters numerous friends and foes in the form of whimsical Christmas figures. The final destination of Toyland is painted with the colorful and imaginative brush of classic nursery rhymes and fairytales, adding a strong element of fantasy to the story. “Babes in Toyland” manages to poke fun at its storybook inspiration while giving homage to the beloved nursery rhyme characters that have captured the imaginations of their devoted readers for generations. The main cast does a stunning job of lending their own unique charms to the beloved Mother Goose characters, giving them life like no other movie has before. Bo Peep provides plenty of comedic relief, and Mary Contrary’s naïve yet devoted personality is automatically endearing. Tom Piper provides the perfect leading man to root for as he battles his way through an evil villain’s plot so he can reunite with his fiancée.
The musical sequences in “Babes in Toyland” epitomize the best of 1960s musical films. The songs are upbeat and catchy without sounding repetitive, and the vocal performances by Annette Funicello alone make the film worth viewing. Each scene is well paced, lending to the overall story arc without getting bogged down in details. The writing is clever without getting overly involved or deep, making this the ideal offering for a lighthearted family gathering around the holidays.
Few Christmas-themed movies manage to be as family friendly and imaginative as “Babes in Toyland,” a film that offers equal enjoyment to viewers of all ages. Featuring an all-star cast that would later become etched into the classic Hollywood hall of fame, “Babes in Toyland” provides a nostalgic glimpse into holidays of the past while still holding plenty of entertainment value for a modern audience.