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It's 2 days before Christmas, and the Toyland Toy Factory has just received its biggest order ever. But the evil Barnaby, who doesn't believe in toys, has plans to shut the factory down and spoil the holiday for everyone. Now it's up to Toyland's most recent arrivals, young Jack & his sister Jill, to help their newfound friends Tom Piper, Mary Lamb, Humpty Dumpty, and the rest of Toyland stop Barnaby's plot and save Christmas! Written by
James Drury <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This was originally intended by MGM to be a theatrical release for 1996, but had been delayed because of the commercial failure of All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 (1996), and eventually released straight to video in 1997. See more »
I was originally introduced to the "Babes in Toyland" concept via the Walt Disney soundtrack, which had the story and song, in Kindergarten. I liked the record a lot, but when I finally saw the Disney production it was based on when I was 8...well, I was horribly disappointed. It was stupid, spoofy, had lousy acting and was just plain awful. I wasn't surprised to learn that it was one of Walt's flops and was considered one of his worst failures.
So, having had the concept ruined for me for a long time, I was not exactly enthusiastic when I was visiting my mother at Christmas and she recommended it to me. I said no way, as I was guessing it would stink as badly as the Disney version only worse (they just aren't making animated films well here in the USA these days).
"No, you've got to see this one," she assured me. "I saw it just the other night and it puts the Disney production to shame."
Being a professional cartoonist, I tend to be extremely picky about new animated material. So I was very suspicious as I settled myself into a chair and waited to see what I was in store from as I feared the worst.
What I got was a fantastic surprise! This version of "Babes in Toyland" is genuinely charming, boasts nice animation and superb songs which actually WORK without being overly "showy" (the only bummer being the song sung in The Goblin Forest), fine character design and captures a special childlike magic and innocence that Disney's version simply never achieved.
While Disney's was a bunch of adults who refused to take any of the material seriously and hammed it up through a shoddy production attached to a smirk, this one is smart and serious with its characters. It also features good character development (!!!) and a better script.
Not being familiar with the original stage production, I'm not sure how much liberty has been taken here although I'm sure a lot has. Except for the classic songs "Toyland" and "March of The Toy Soldiers" and the basic concept of Toyland being a home for nursery rhyme characters, the villain Barnaby and a love story between a Tom and Mary, it is otherwise COMPLETELY dissimilar to the Disney version of the story.
In this one, Jack and Jill (you know, "Jack and Jill went up the hill...") are being sent to Toyland to live with their uncle, who unfortunately happens to be Barnaby. Mary (and her little lamb) is the sweet, professional and kindhearted owner of Toyland's prized toy factory inherited from her father. Her top employee and main man in charge, Tom (the piper's son, who looks a LOT of Leonardo DiCaprio--I'd swear he was the character model if it weren't for the fact that this was made before TITANIC) is the loveable lunk of a genius who happens to be a personal friend of Santa Claus himself and is responsible for creating the toys to order and preparing them for delivery. Tom is crazy about Mary, Mary is crazy about him as well but isn't willing to admit it to herself yet.
One of the things that is especially nice here is how the characters actually come across as being believable souls, and the script features all the little details as to why they feel and behave the way they do, such as Mary's comments which give away why she is so secretly smitten with Tom. (She affectionately remarks to him, "You're becoming more and more like my father all the time.")
All except for Barnaby, of course... but hey, he's a villain who simply hates toys, does a children's cartoon NEED a detailed explanation for HIM? This version of Barnaby is far more threatening and sinister than Disney's klunky version ever pretended to be.
But the wonderful thing about this one is how it captures a real feel for Toyland itself and what it could be like. I get the impression that everyone involved here had a lot of fun making it and that they all genuinely loved the concept enough to make it work. Toyland feels like a real place with real citizens, so to speak, and it truly does look like a child's fantasy come true.
And hey, this feature actually makes children AND their parents genuinely *care* about the fate of Toyland when it's harassed. As though it's a real and beautifully precious place.
That's not an easy feat to pull off.
This one has become a annual holiday favorite within my household, and our children (who range from ages 5 to 15) all adore it. And so do I. It deserves a long life on both videocassette and DVD (if the latter is ever released...and I certainly hope so!).
While I was able to recognize all the traditional characters from nursery rhymes and stories here, there's one that puzzles me... in the toy factory, one of the workers there appears to be a silver fox...well, at least he's far too sleek-looking and pointy-muzzled to be a wolf. I simply don't recognize who he's supposed to be!
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