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Babes In Toyland Review

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Ollie Dee and Stannie Dum help keep Little Bo Peep out of the clutches of the wicked Barnaby, so she can marry Tom-Tom Piper.

★★★★

With the Depression biting, movie theatres began showing double features in a bid to offer greater value to cash-strapped patrons. Consequently, the comedy short began to go out of vogue and its masters, Laurel and Hardy, were forced into full-length pictures. Built around Victor Herbert's 1903 operetta, this blend of nursery rhyme and pantomime almost didn't get made, as Stan Laurel loathed producer Hal Roach's original storyline - which had the duo playing Simple Simon and the Pieman defeating a spider-man who infuses hatred into the wooden soldiers in a bid to destroy Toyland - and both he and Ollie were knee-deep in marital difficulties.

Even the revised script was pretty much jettisoned, as Stan improvised situations on the spot in his customary manner and the rest of the cast tried to keep pace with his restless imagination. As a consequence, writer-director Ray McCarey walked out and shooting was further delayed by a series of illnesses and injuries, including Laurel tearing ligaments in his leg and Babe needing his tonsils removed during post-production.  


But none of these troubles are reflected in the picture, which, for once, pits Stan and Ollie into a world as innocent as they are. The fairy-tale sets were enchanting, while the stop-motion work used to animate the soldiers was ingenious. But there was also something sinister about the Bogeymen that Barnaby unleashes in the finale and the mix of mayhem and menace made the film a firm pantomimic hit with younger audiences. Moreover, Laurel and Hardy themselves revel in several amusing set-pieces, one of which had Ollie being wrapped in a giant gift box, while another saw Stan disguised as a bride to ruin Barnaby's wedding day.  


 Disney tried a remake in 1961 and Keanu Reeves featured in a 1986 teleplay, but neither reproduced a modicum of the original's charm.

Charming and a little sinister at times, this Laurel and Hardy fantasy comedy is still very watchable.