Blu-ray Review Babes in Toyland (1961) Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Dec 6, 2012.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Walt Disney’s 1961 adaptation of  Babes in Toyland, Victor Herbert’s beloved turn-of-the-century operetta, was highly anticipated given Disney’s penchant for music and fantasy, but the film was a crushing disappointment with a stage-bound look and feel, players who brought very little magic or charisma to the screen, and, despite a lush production, very little sense of awe or wonder. The film has a few lyrical moments, but there’s a forced feel to the proceedings that just overwhelms all of the obvious time and money spent on attempting to bring this fantasy to whimsical life.





    Babes in Toyland (1961) (Blu-ray)
    Directed by Jack Donohue

    Studio: Disney
    Year: 1961
    Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 106 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English, Spanish
    Subtitles:  SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese

    Region: A-B-C
    MSRP: $ 20.00


    Release Date: December 11, 2012

    Review Date: December 6, 2012




    The Film

    2.5/5


    In Mother Goose village, the evil Barnaby (Ray Bolger) has a double-gated plan to win the comely Mary Contrary (Annette Funicello) for himself. He and his bumbling henchmen Gonzorgo (Henry Calvin) and Roderigo (Gene Sheldon) plan to abduct Mary’s fiancé Tom Piper (Tommy Sands) and throw him in the sea while also taking Mary and Bo Peep’s (Ann Jillian) sheep and hiding them in the Forest of No Return thus cutting off Mary’s source of income and forcing her to marry the wealthy Barnaby to pay her bills.


    Though the movie uses far more of the Victor Herbert-Glen MacDonough score than the 1934 movie version did, the modernized orchestrations sometimes take the movie into a different realm altogether. The stagebound look to the Mother Goose Village, the Forest of No Return, and Toyland is regrettable (the movie even pulls back a stage curtain at the beginning further losing any sense of a magical land), but the film’s best moments are when the filmmakers depart from this motif and use the magic of movies to their benefit: Annette’s “I Can’t Do the Sum” where she sings and dances with colored variations of herself or the climactic “March of the Toys” sequence where stop motion animation, miniatures, and compositing bring the world of Toyland to life.


    We’re introduced to the various storybook characters in the opening “Down in Mother Goose Square” in a very conventional and dull production number getting the movie off to a shaky start, and the lovers share two duets “Just a Whisper Away” and “Just a Toy” which offers pleasant singing but little in the way of chemistry between Tommy and Annette (to be fair, the G-rated scenario by Ward Kimball, Joe Rinaldi, and Lowell S. Hawley doesn’t even allow a single kiss between the two). Ray Bolger as the comic villain Barnaby gets his one moment to shine in “Castle in Spain” where his flamenco dancing is upstaged by a spurting water fountain, but the film’s most exciting number is the one by gypsies where Tom Mahoney’s athletic choreography especially for the male dancers really puts them through their paces in impressive fashion. George Bruns’ adaptation of Victor Herbert’s music makes a familiar song like “Toyland” seem different and less appealing with its sped-up tempo, and the three new songs contributed by him and lyricist Mel Leven produce comic numbers for Calvin and Sheldon and for the talking, dancing trees of the Forest of No Return, and a workshop song for the children and Toymaker Ed Wynn, none of them memorable.


    Top-billed Ray Bolger can’t really decide if he wants his sneering Barnaby to be a comic cad or a dastardly one, and though he gets a chance for a showy routine in “Castle in Spain,” his best years of dancing are obviously behind him. Part of his unsatisfying performance can be laid at the feet of director Jack Donohue who allows Bolger to break the fourth wall to talk to the audience near the beginning of the movie but never afterwards. Annette and Tommy Sands are rather wooden and uninteresting lovers, and Disney favorites like Kevin Corcoran and Tommy Kirk are wasted in a nothing role or an overdrawn one respectively. Henry Calvin and Gene Sheldon bring the essence of fantasyland to their roles as bumbling henchmen and are the most appealing performers in the movie. Ed Wynn is annoyingly over the top as the befuddled Toymaker.



    Video Quality

    4.5/5


    Despite the liner notes indicating that the film is presented in 1.33:1, it’s actually framed at 1.66:1 and is presented in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. The candy-coated color of these lands is captured brilliantly in this transfer with rich, deeply saturated hues that are made for high definition. Flesh tones are natural and appealing. Sharpness is usually excellent except in some long shots and in some of the special effects work in the Toyland sequence where things go soft and grain levels increase. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.



    Audio Quality

    3.5/5


    The sound mix offered here is a disappointing lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix which Dolby Prologic decodes into the center channel. Rather than offering a lossless encode, Disney has opted for a low bitrate (300 kps) Dolby Digital mix that has a rather flat and stifled ambiance. Dialogue, sound effects, and music occupy the track comfortably enough, but there’s a lifelessness to the presentation that’s disappointing.



    Special Features

    0/5


    This release is the very definition of barebones offering not even a trailer for the film or of other Disney coming attractions.



    In Conclusion

    2.5/5 (not an average)


    The 1961 Babes in Toyland might not have offered the musical magic that Disney was capable of producing, but the Blu-ray transfer of the film certainly looks beautiful for the most part. A lossy sound mix is disappointing and no bonus material at all furthers the dissatisfaction with this release.




    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC

     
  2. MatthewA

    MatthewA Lead Actor

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    The audio in Disney films of this era have always had this weirdly compressed quality to the dialogue in every film, and no other studio's films sound quite like it. Even the few stereo movies of the era (the 1950s to about 1980 or so) sound this way. Nevertheless, lossy audio in 2012 is troubling.
     
  3. Everett Stallings

    Everett Stallings Supporting Actor

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    I must have been just the right age when this came to our local movie house, becuse I liked it . Ed Wynn became a fave. to me after this film.Will get this even if I prefer at lease a stereo remix with musicals.
     
  4. classicmovieguy

    classicmovieguy Producer

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    Disney might have had the sense to include 2 TV series episodes which were tie-ins to "Babes in Toyland". "The Titlemakers" featured Annette and Tommy in costume from the film, recording the theme from "The Parent Trap" but also heavily promoting BIT. The other notable omission is "Backstage Party" which was a special look behind the scenes on the day filming wrapped on BIT.
     
  5. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    I knew the movie had to have been heavily promoted on The Wonderful World of Color before its release since it was Disney's Christmas attraction and they had spent a great deal of money on it. Even a trailer or two would have been welcome.
     
  6. classicmovieguy

    classicmovieguy Producer

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    Both those Disney episodes have been released on DVD in the past ("Titlemakers" in the 2-disc Vault Disney release of "The Parent Trap") and "Backstage Party" in the "Your Host Walt Disney" Disney Treaures tin.
     
  7. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member
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    I was wondering about that. Thank you for the pointers. Not that it excuses Disney for such a dismal 0/5 barebones release.
     
  8. Ejanss

    Ejanss Banned

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    And as has been often pointed out, Disney didn't do live-action musicals again until three years later with Mary Poppins in '64, and....some slight difference! :eek:
    Old Mickey Mouse Club stages were now replaced with Hollywood soundstages, and the movies looked like movies. Considering the poor reception of their first one, that's taking lessons and benefitting from them.
    I thought Walt filmed the Disneyland shows on film in those days (got the YHWD tin, too), so they could be upgradeable to Blu, but that we don't even get a SD bonus-extra inclusion? Well, that's just wrong. The least I expected was a straight up-dump of their previous DVD release of the movie.
    If they upgrade Darby O'Gill and don't include that Disneyland tie-in episode the second time around, we gotta have a talk with Disney.
     
  9. Mark-P

    Mark-P Producer

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    I had already pre-ordered this and it's already been shipped. The only surprise is that Disney went lossy on the soundtrack considering that lossless has become standard issue on almost all Blu-rays these days.
     
  10. Ethan Riley

    Ethan Riley Producer

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    Well, this film stands in low regard at the Disney studios. They really don't like this one! If it were up to me, I'd have done a collectors' version packed with extras and at least an attempt at a restored soundtrack. I don't even think the original sound materials exist anymore. But it's one of Disney's least favorite catalogue titles (although it sells okay on home video) and it comes as no surprise to me that it'd go out as such a bare-bones release. Darby O'Gill, however, is a minor classic and I'd guess it'll do a little better when it comes to blu.
     
  11. Adam Gregorich

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    I'm just pleased to have this on Blu-ray! I know my wife is a big fan so this will find its way under the tree for her.
     
  12. classicmovieguy

    classicmovieguy Producer

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    I would have thought it'd be quite easy for Disney to have included "Backstage Party" and "The Titlemakers"; since they have been used in the past, and give BABES IN TOYLAND a more complete package for the fans who've always loved it.
    I have both the 1985 'Neon Mickey' VHS edition and the DVD in my collection already and am planning on buying the Blu-ray regardless - at least they went to a bit of effort with the remastering.
     
  13. Mark-P

    Mark-P Producer

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    Received my copy and I think it looks outstanding. Can't wait for more vintage Disney live-action films on Blu-ray. I hope RAH weighs in on this one because I'd be curious to hear his evaluation.
     

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