Babes in Toyland (1961): Disney’s First Live Action, Oscar-Nominated Musical

This second version  of Victor Herbert operetta “Babes in Toyland” was Walt Disney’s first live-action musical, and it was the studio’s big Christmas release in 1961.

Herbert’s original, written in 1903m was rather plotless, and screenwriters Joe Rinaldi, Lowell S. Hawley, and Ward Kimball used for inspiration the 1934 version, which had starred Laurel and Hardy.

Annette Funicello plays Mary Contrary, about to wed Tom Piper (Tommy Sands), but  the villainous Barnaby (Ray Bolger), who loves Mary, orders his henchmen Gonzorgo (Henry Calvin) and Roderigo (Gene Sheldon) to kill Tom.

However, the greedy Gonzorgo and Roderigo sell Tom to a band of gypsies, and he returns in drag to rescue Mary from Barnaby. Meanwhile, Mary’s younger siblings wander into the Forest of No Return, forcing Tom and Mary to go after them.

They all gather in Toyland, where they try to help the Toymaker (Ed Wynn) and his assistant Grumio (Tommy Kirk) meet their quota for Santa Claus.

Unfortunately, Jack Donohue’s direction is pedestrian, resulting in a rather flat picture.  The 1934 adaptation is better on any level.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Scoring of a Musical Picture: George Bruns

Costume Design (color): Bill Thomas

Oscar Awards: None


Oscar Context:

“West Side Story” won most of the Oscars, including Scoring and Costumes.

Running time: 105 Minutes.

Theatrical release: December 14, 1961.

DVD on September 3, 2002