Laurel and Hardy had better films with better gags and more iconic moments but Babes in Toyland, or The March of The Wooden Soldiers as it was also known as develops the most immersive fantastical world that they ever had the privilege of gallivanting through. It’s almost fitting that we find them in an almost childlike world because they brought laughter to not only adults but a plethora of children as well and this picture does them both justice.
It’s true that out of the imagination of babes (which was consequently Oliver Hardy’s lifelong nickname) comes a film steeped in nursery rhythms and kiddie stories. Above all, it proves to be the perfect playground for two of comedy’s greatest treasures as they play Make-Believe in a world of Mother Goose, the Three Little Pigs, Old King Coal, and a host of others. Except it’s not made up at all. By 1930s standards everything is very much alive and it very easily could be a child’s delight. Also, rather unwittingly a minor Christmas classic was born.
Ollie Dee and Stannie Dumm, as they are affectionately called, work at the local toy factory in Toyland and reside in a Shoe with a certain Old Woman as well as Little Bo Peep.
But she is being accosted by the resident villain and shoe forecloser Silas Barnaby. He’s a hyperbolic, conniving, cackling antagonist who undoubtedly finds origins in the invariably black and white worlds of a child’s fantasy (It’s no coincidence that Disney’s canon has boasted some of the most iconic villains). He’s played by none other than 21-year-old Henry Brandon and though he’s draped in a beard there’s no doubt that his stunts in the final scenes evoke the physique of a young man.
Anyways, our heroes promise to raise the necessary money to keep the shoe so Little Bo Beep doesn’t have to marry such a horrible fellow. But of course they go and make a shamble of things messing up Santa’s wooden soldier order and they get fired. Even a trojan Christmas present in July sent to Barnaby fails because of Stan’s typical good-natured idiocy.
He’s up to his usual tricks as the lovable pal who begins his trademark sniveling while his friend is getting tortured with a dunk tank only to offer Ollie a glass of water once he’s made it back to dry land with his usual vacuous deadpan. Furthermore, still plagued by malapropisms, he turns “heartbroken” into “housebroken” and similarly misconstrues other words.
The villainous Barnaby is not to be outdone. First trying to arrest Ollie and then framing Bo Peep’s true love with the kidnapping of one of the three pigs. Banishment to the dreaded Bogeyland looks all too imminent. Still, Babes in Toyland stages one of the most delightful battles of good versus evil that evokes everything from The Nutcracker to The Wizard of Oz. Toys become ammunition and buildings are to be sieged as everything comes alive.
Like Our Relations two years later, this film employs one of the oldest sitcom tricks but here it’s all but forgivable. Because, again, television tropes hadn’t been invented yet much less television. It’s true that the kids will probably enjoy this the most or perhaps the young at heart. Still, Hal Roach delivers another Laurel and Hardy comedy with its share of child-like charm and some dashes of Disney magic (namely a Mickey Mouse lookalike and the Three Little Pigs theme song). Yes, it’s puerile entertainment but what’s wrong with that?