There have been many versions of 'Babes in Toyland,' with perhaps the most recognized being this 1961 film directed by Jack Donohue and starring Ray Bolger, who is best known for playing the Scarecrow in the 'Wizard of Oz'. Here, Bolger plays the villainous Barnaby, who can't decide if he wants to be pure evil or a silly mad man. The film starts out as it were live on stage in a world of Mother Goose characters. We follow Mary Contrary (Annette Funicello), who is about to be wed to Tim Piper (Tommy Sands). Meanwhile, the evil Barnaby (Bolger) has hired two henchmen by the names of Gonzorgo and Rodrigo to kidnap Tom and steal Mary's sheep in the hope that she will go broke and have no option but to marry Barnaby himself. (Maniacal laugh)
Unbeknownst to Mary, she herself has inherited a large sum of money which, oddly, Barnaby knows about, and it turns out he is actually after her wealth. The two henchman were given orders to drown Tom, but they instead sell him to a group of gypsies in order to get double the money. However, since Tom is alive and Barnaby has hired these gypsies to perform in front of him, Tom shows up and rescues Mary and they make their way to a forest known as Toyland, where trees come to life and there is a mysterious toymaker who is the leader of this magical land. Tom and Mary witness the toymaker working on toys in time for Christmas, however the toymaker has a machine that makes toys without any manual labor, and when he speeds up that machine to make them faster, it explodes and all of the gifts for Christmas are ruined.
We then learn of another device the toymaker has, which shrinks regular objects down to toy size, and are told that if you shrink the same thing twice, it will disappear from existence. Meanwhile, the evil Barnaby has been spying on everything going on in Toyland, and turns things in his favor, telling Mary that he will kill Tom if she doesn't marry him. From here on out, we get a sword fight, a massive army of toy soldiers in a rather weak battle, and more musical numbers.
The music numbers in the film are all good, however you won't find yourself humming them afterward. My favorite is Roy Bolger's 'Castle in Spain.' Bolger crosses that line of evil guy to silly madman quite a few times here, especially in his musical number. He even talks to us the audience at the beginning of the film. I think one of the downfalls was the chemistry between Annette and Tommy. It just isn't there. I feel like anyone could have played their parts, as their performances were uninspired and forgettable. The stop motion effects are dated, but they seem to hold their own here as I quite enjoyed re-watching this classic.
Overall, this 1961 version of 'Babes in Toyland' is a semi-fun viewing experience, but certainly not at the top of my list. Bolger is the best part of the film, but he alone can't carry this fantasy tale on his shoulders. Also, a lot of the choreography was well done and executed. I know they remade this film in the 80s, but just maybe this needs another reboot.
Disney's 'Babes in Toyland' comes with an impressive HD transfer, which is presented in glorious 1080p and is presented in 1.66:1, although it says it's presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio on the box. The colors are very vibrant with this new transfer. The blacks are deep and inky with the flesh tones natural and smooth. The colors of this bizarre world are very sharp and vivid and look the best they ever have.
However, when the special effects from the early 60s come into play, there is a layer of grain present and the picture is not as sharp as it could be. I did not notice any aliasing or edge enhancement on this release. Overall, this is a strong video presentation, and it is the best looking presentation of the film I have seen.
Unlike the video presentation, this audio mix is sorely disappointing. This disc has only a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix and does not sound as good as it should. It has a low bit rate and sounds dull and somewhat muted. There is just no life to this audio mix at all. The dialogue sounds okay enough with a few flaws here and there. The score and sound effects sound about the same as the dialogue with no real animation. It's as if somebody forgot to attend to the audio portion of this disc and focused everything on the video.
There are no extras.
This Blu-ray release of 'Babes in Toyland' is disappointing to say the least. Disney has a decent film, which some would consider a classic, that has never been released before on Blu-ray. I can't imagine with the effort they put in with the video presentation, they didn't bother with the audio mix nor did they put one single extra on the release. I can't recommend this for those reasons, although, if you can find it on a rental service, that would be your best bet.