Babes in Toyland (1961) (Blu-ray)
Directed by Jack Donohue
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 106 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese
MSRP: $ 20.00
Release Date: December 11, 2012
Review Date: December 6, 2012
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.
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.
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.
This release is the very definition of barebones offering not even a trailer for the film or of other Disney coming attractions.
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.