March of the Wooden Soldiers/Babes in Toyland (1934)


Here in New York City, there’s been a tradition for almost thirty years that the local television station channel 11 also known as WPIX airs a yearly broadcast of Laurel and Hardy’s “March of the Wooden Soldiers.” Though it’s mostly known as “Babes in Toyland,” ever since I was a young child, I’ve identified it by “March of the Wooden Soldiers.” For some odd reason it’s just been a tradition to view it every year on Thanksgiving, and it just seems to pair up with the holiday season so well. There are appearances from every fairy tale character imaginable from the three little pigs, to the three blind mice, along with an appearance from Mickey Mouse, The incomparable duo of Dum and Dee even work at Santa’s shop creating toys for him for the Christmas rush.

The movie is definitely a great comedy for all ages, with a slew of physical gags that any child can laugh at. Laurel and Hardy offer up a variety of prat falls and physical schtick that is hysterical but never violent, and they’re the inadvertent heroes for this fantasy feature. Laurel and Hardy are Dee and Dum, two toy workers for the local factory whom are struggling to help their mother goose make ends meet to keep their house. The evil land baron Barnaby wants his money or else they all go homeless. After a terrible accident at the shop, Dee and Dum are fired, and now they can’t pay the money they owe Mr. Barnaby. In exchange for their staying, Barnaby asks for the lovely Bo Peep’s hand in marriage, whether she likes it or not. Bo Peep who is in love with the piper’s son Tom Tom must marry Barnaby for the sake of Mother Goose, and now the family must try to outwit the evil land baron.

Along the way, Barnaby begins teaming with the evil monsters beyond Toyland called the Bogeymen. When Dee and Dum manage to find a loophole in Barnaby’s wedding proposal, Barnaby frames Tom Tom with the pignapping of pig Little Elmer, and Tom Tom is banished to Bogeyland. When Dee and Dum prove his innocence, Barnaby sets to wreak havoc on the town. “March of the Wooden Soldiers” is filled with a lot of innocent laughs and hilarious gags that Laurel and Hardy revel in taking part in, and they’re perfect for the role of these two heroes who spend most of the movie trying to save their home, and soon have to save Toyland. As is the case with most of the comedy team movies in the same vein of Abbott and Costello, the romance between Tom Tom and Bo Peep is used to fill up the extra screen time. Their sub-plot for the most part is pretty tedious, especially when they spend most of their time swooning and singing to one another.

Laurel and Hardy of course never get the girl, nor do they sing to a gorgeous woman, but they do spend most of the time focusing on keeping the town safe from the evil bogeymen. “March of the Wooden Soldiers” still ends up as a wonderful fantasy adventure that directors Gus Meins and Charley Rogers approach with a sense of awe, as the finale includes Dee and Dum unleashing the experimental man sized Wooden Soldiers, all of whom march to the rescue of the town folks and do battle with the Bogeymen. No matter how old I get, it’s a climax I never tire of, and directors Gus Meins and Charley Rogers draw out the excitement with an excellent use of stop motion, extras, and crafty stuntmen dressed as wooden soldiers. Regardless of what you call it, this public domain Laurel and Hardy adventure is a classic fantasy film with laughs, excitement, and some unique storytelling that will keep the rug rats entertained but never bored. I intend to watch this well in to my old age.