Cloaked Critic Reviews Babes in Toyland Picture


"Babes in Toyland" is an operetta originally composed by Victor Herbet and Glen MacDonough that weaves together various characters from Mother Goose nursery rhymes into a Christmas-themed musical. Over the years it has been adapted into numerous stage and film adaptations including one with Drew Barrymore and Keanu Reeves, but the focus of this review is the 1997 animated film produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer which is a very different story from the original.

If there is one word I could use to sum up the story and characters of this film it would be "generic". Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed watching this movie (probably more than I should have), but throughout the film I couldn't help but note how incredibly predictable and cliche it was. Without even getting halfway through the movie I could tell this story had a central Christmas theme driving the plot as it reminded me of just about every Christmas movie or special I've ever seen. In fact, the only thing they could have done to make this story more Christmasy would have been to have Toyland covered in snow and decorated with lights and tinsel (and I mean throughout the film, not just at the finale).

The basic plot of the movie revolves around Jack and Jill (taking the place of Alan and Jane from the original story) two orphan children who are being sent to Toyland to live with their Uncle Barnaby...and yes, they are the same Jack and Jill from the nursery rhyme. Their initial arrival in Toyland seems like a fairytale dream come true as they become fast friends with Humpty Dumpty, Tom-Tom the Piper's Son, and Mary from Mary Had A Little Lamb (a different Mary than Mary, Mary Quite Contrary from the original), but they soon find that their new home is not all dancing toys and talking eggs when they meet their only living relative, Barnaby Crookedman, an evil flint-hearted slimeball who despises children, laughter, happiness, toys, and just about anything else which brings comfort and joy. He locks them in his attic and proceeds with his scheme to shut down and ultimately destroy the toy factory. When his first two attempts fail (the second due to Jack and Jill's intervention) he orders his two thugs, Gonzargo and Rodrigo to take the children to the Goblin Forest in order to dispose of them (and presumably Gonzargo and Rodrigo too), but of course Humpty Dumpty tells Tom and Mary who rush to their rescue. Everything seems like smooth sailing from there until Barnaby returns with the goblins who start to ravage Toyland prompting Tom (who is portrayed as some kind of master toymaker and engineer) to activate an army of toy soldiers who drive off the Goblins saving Toyland and Christmas. Then Santa shows up and works magic, and Tom and Mary become sweethearts and they adopt Jack and Jill and everybody lives happyily ever after...except of course for Barnaby who seemingly gets maimed by the goblins.

So for the most part this story follows your standard Christmas-themed storyline. You've got at least two sickenly cute children, something involving toys, a sappy love story mixed in somewhere, a generically evil person who hates Christmas, children, love, and general goodwill, Christmas is threatned by said evil person only for Christmas to be saved come the dramatic climax. You can pretty much tell how this story is going to end less than 15 minutes after the opening credits.

Now again I'm not saying the movie is not enjoyable. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I'd be lying if I said otherwise. In fact, you might even find the generic cliches of this movie to be somewhat amusing, because they are just so blatant until it's almost like the movie's making fun of itself. My favorite cliche of all is the villain, Barnaby Crookedman. Barnaby is the abritary villain of this story who is abritarily evil for no reason other than this movie needed a generic scumbag to provide conflict in this sugar-coated wonderland of fairytale characters and sentient toys. I mean there is little to any motive behind his dasterdly deeds in this film. We're told that he hates toys and supposedly the reason he's so evil is because he never had a toy (which seems like propaganda from the major toy coporations to dupe kids into begging their parents for more toys), but that honestly serves as a flimsy explanation for such an over-the-top louse as Barnaby is presented as being. At least the Barnaby from the original story was motivated by greed and wanted to steal Alan and Jane's inheritance by killing them; this film's adaption of Barnaby seems like a mishmash of Ebenzer Scrooge and the Grinch. I also love how they reimagined Barnaby as being the Crooked Man from the classic nursery rhyme since there was never any mention of Barnaby being synonymous with the Crooked Man in the original tale nor was there ever any implication given that the Crooked Man from the children's rhyme was ever actually evil. If you read the poem that implication is never presented anywhere. In fact, after doing a little research it seems the poem was actually a political satire of the growing disdain and ill-will shared between Scotland and England during the 1600's, but people typically take the "crooked" adjective to mean something evil and this is a movie about nursery rhyme characters so there you go. This movie's main villain is an amalgamation of Scrooge, the Grinch, and the Crooked Man. I will admit it does make him an interesting character for he is both clever and unoriginal at the same time.

The other completely random and nonsencial thing about Barnaby's character is his absurd obsession with goblins. Apart from hating toys and general happiness, this dude's absolutely fixated on goblins! The goblins literally owe their very presence in this movie to the fact that this guy is unreasonably obsessed with them! Goblins are literally his solution to everything! He tries to kill Tom by shooting down his balloon over the Goblin Forest hoping he'd get eaten by them, He threatens and eventually sends Jack and Jill to the Goblin Forest to try and get rid of them, and then after all his other plans fail he leads the goblins to Toyland so they can destroy the factory. If this guy had a cockroach infestation he'd probably try to throw goblins at them! If his toliet got clogged up; CALL IN THE GOBLINS!! Why is he so infatuated with goblins?! He doesn't appear to have any special ties with them; shown most undeniably when they chase him out of town and presumably eat him come the film's conclusion, and while we're on the topic of goblins I have to confess the goblins did actually take me a little by surprise. When they were first mentioned earlier in the movie I was expecting 1991 "The Princess and the Goblin" variety of goblins; all goofy and silly, but when the goblins in this story finally showed up I was shocked as they were actually pretty fuckin' monstrous for such an otherwise light-hearted feel-good fantasy film. This movie's take on goblins seem more like demons, and the Goblin King looks like he was modeled after the devil himself or some other terrible mythological monster. Even when they ransack Toyland and set fire to the toy factory you temporaily get the first legimiate feeling of tension in this story as the goblins are exceptionally brutal and seem to show no restraint chasing women through the street, breaking down people's doors, shattering windows, attacking babies, and strangling sentient street lamps.

Of course as hardcore as the goblins in this movie are played up to be even they are watered down with a totally cliche abitrary weakness. Even though these monstrous creatures seem otherwise completely unstoppable, they apparently have a fatal aversion to light. The Goblin King himself is even the heroes shining a bunch of flashlights at him. Way to take something totally badass and make it weak sauce. Why the heck do so many movies have to pull that crap? Giving the unstoppable force of evil some lame-ass Achilles' Heel that honestly doesn't make a lick of sense? The Wicked Witch of the West was taken out by a bucket of water, the aliens from "War of the Worlds" killed off by bacteria, and the goblins in this movie are destroyed by light. I mean I could understand it a little better if it was sunlight, but no it's just the little bit of light you get from a flashlight! All you need is a flashlight and some D-Cells to take care of these monsters. Even the Boogeyman's calling them pussies!

And of course we owe the salvation of Toyland to toy soldiers ex machina. I mean are these toy soldiers or transformers?! These guys are tricked out as fuck! Their hands transform into hoses and spring boxing gloves, their feet enlarge in size to kick the goblins into next week, they emit beams of light from their hats...heck, they even got rockets in their feet. These things could pass for Autobots! They sure do pull Toyland's keister out of the fire that's for sure. Not sure if we should thank Tom's master engineering or writer's convience.

But long story short, the movie's predictable, the characters are cliche, the songs are fairly forgettable and uninspired (except perhaps for the villain songs), but if you're able to look past all that it's not that bad of a film. After all, generic isn't always such a bad thing. Sometimes it's nice to settle down with something simple and familiar and just let your mind go with the flow. Not everything can be mind-blown and inspirational, and honestly what more should you expect from a low budget family-friendly kids' movie produced during the late 90's?
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