While the film definitely feels like a Wizard of Oz carbon copy, it is not without its charms. For one, it was nice to see Keanu Reeves in one of his earlier roles, before Bill and Ted or Speed. Same goes for Drew Barrymore; while this wasn’t one of her first roles, as she was a child actor, it was still nice to see some of her earlier work, especially as it was one of the film’s charms that I mentioned earlier. Babes in Toyland tells the story of Lisa Piper, a eleven-year-old girl. While most girls at this age are all-consumed by Christmas and presents, she is too busy caring for her family, as the death of her father has caused her to have to grow up fast. As a result, she has no time for toys, and she resents being treated like a child despite her age. Concerned about a impending snowstorm, Lisa travels to her older sister Mary’s job to warn her. Mary’s boyfriend, Jack Fenton (Reeves), gives them a ride home, but loses control due to the blizzard conditions. Lisa is thrown from the car and transported to Toyland, a magical realm built out of toys. As I said, definite Wizard of Oz vibes. In truth, this story’s origins date back nearly as far as the novel that inspired the Oz film. Babes in Toyland is inspired by the 1903 operetta of the same title with some slight deviations, as this version of the film features a new score as well as maintaining select portions of the original score.
Back to Lisa; after being thrown from the car, she arrives in Toyland in time for the wedding of Mary Contrary (who looks exactly like her older sister, Mary) and the villainous Barnaby Barnacle (who looks exactly like Mary’s pervy boss). Mary is about to wed Barnacle, despite being truly in love with Barnaby’s nephew, Jack Be Nimble (who also resembles Reeves’ Jack Fenton). Lisa helps thwart the wedding, but soon realizes that Barnaby’s plans extend beyond taking Mary as his bride, but also include taking over Toyland. Banding together with her new group of friends, Lisa endeavors to stop him.
Barrymore sets the tone with her performance here, displaying childhood vulnerability as well as conviction. Her performance is one of the film’s charms that I spoke of earlier. As the focus for the film, her performance was crucial to the story’s overall success. And while there are times that she may ebb and flow, such as when she first arrives at the toy store, her performance is predominantly solid and gets the story going. Outside of her, I’d say that everyone else is fairly one-dimensional until they start pulling double duty, i.e. their counterparts in Toyland. I did like that there was a bit of foreshadowing between the counterparts, as Richard Mulligan’s Barnie makes an accusation against Reeves’ Jack in the real world that is duplicated with their Toyland counterparts.
As an ensemble they work well together, keeping the story moving at an even pace, so as to prevent any section from becoming long-winded or tedious. Interesting side note: this disc features two versions of the film: a version that is just over 90 minutes and an extended 145-minute version; however, that is the original version. The shortened version was intended for overseas theatrical release. The original version was the 145-minute cut, with many of the deleted scenes being musical numbers and other transitional dialog. Speaking of musical numbers, as a musical the film features several original songs, to include “C-I-N-C-I-N-N-A-T-I”, “We’ll Think of Something”, and “Eyes of a Child”. Personally, I preferred “We’ll Think of Something”, which can be found in the extended cut of the film, as it feels more like a call to action.
Is it all a dream? That was a question I found myself asking as I watched the film. How could I not ask that question? The whole thing so clearly seems to be the repressed imagination of a little girl who was forced to grow up fast. It would explain why the prominent figures of Toyland resemble -life figures whom she interacts with on a regular basis. However, even that that question is left unanswered given the film’s ambiguous conclusion.
Babes in Toyland is a good, stable holiday film that is worth at least a one-time viewing. Bearing that in mind, I’d recommend watching it as a family, as it is perfectly suited for type of situation. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that myself, due to the scattered and chaotic nature of this holiday season for my me and my clan. However, as I watched it, I couldn’t help but say that, “This experience would be better if my family was here to share it.”