Babes in Toyland (Gus Meins & Charley Rogers / U.S., 1934):
(March of the Wooden Soldiers)

Nursery-rhyme operetta, Hal Roach style. Mother Goose (Virginia Karns) steps out of the oversized book to tunefully introduce Toyland’s denizens, screens within screens materialize as the pages flip. As teeming as a Bosch, the place is packed with tear-away dollhouses and rotating windmills, complete with a nice little medieval torture device for dunking pariahs. Little Bo-Peep (Charlotte Henry) fancies Tom-Tom (Felix Knight) but is courted by the bent miser Barnaby (Henry Brandon), who contorts for the camera like Caligari. Her mother (Florence Roberts) shares her shoe-house with Stannie Dum (Stan Laurel) and Ollie Dee (Oliver Hardy), warehouse goofballs who bungle the Christmas order and end up with one hundred six-feet high mechanical soldiers. Decked in bridal whites to foil Barnaby’s wedding to Bo-Peep, Stannie starts bawling when suddenly faced with marital obligations: "I can’t stay here with him," he whimpers to Ollie, "I don’t love him!" Renoir’s La Petite Marchande d’Allumettes is key to the filming, which is a steady surge of sweet surrealism closer to Dave Fleischer than to Disney. (A certain mouse with white gloves scampers beside a feline humanoid sawing a fiddle, a vision somewhere between Krazy Kat and Lynch’s Rabbits.) The squat, rubbery pygmies in sailor suits bobbing to "Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" is unsettling enough, but the village raid by Bogeyland ogres (with torches aloft, dart fusillades and rampant bayoneting) keeps the delicious nightmare fuel flowing. Into The Wizard of Oz this goes, the whole kit and caboodle, also Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and The Neverending Story, among others. Directed by Gus Meins and Charley Rogers. With Marie Wilson, Kewpie Morgan, and William Burress. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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