Babes in Toyland, A Holiday Treat
By the late 1950s, Walt Disney was already famous for the creation of his iconic character Mickey Mouse and beloved animated feature films. He was in the midst of creating live action films and hosting television shows that put him right in America’s living room. Soon Walt would chart new waters with his first ever live-action musical, Babes in Toyland.
Walt’s take on Toyland was only the second big-screen adaptation of the classic 1903 Christmas-themed operetta by Victor Herbert. The first film version was released in 1934 and featured the comedic antics of the popular comedy team Laurel and Hardy. Though Disney’s approach altered the plotline from both the original and the beloved black-and-white film, there was still room to pay homage to Laurel and Hardy’s portrayal. As the henchmen of the villainous Barnaby (played with comic menace by Ray Bolger), Henry Calvin filled the shoes of Oliver Hardy and Gene Sheldon recalled Stan Laurel with his baggy-costumed, simple-minded character.
Babes in Toyland incorporated Victor Herbert’s original score which, according to Walt, was “updated [in music and lyrics]…to fit the current trends.” The cast featured several familiar faces from Disney films and television shows. In addition to Calvin and Sheldon (who starred in the “Zorro” series), other favorites included comedian Ed Wynn, Tommy Kirk, Kevin (“Moochie”) Corcoran, and former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello. Cast as Mary Contrary, Funicello was the only Mouseketeer to continue working at the The Walt Disney Studios after the conclusion of the “Mickey Mouse Club” series. Years later she fondly shared that Babes in Toyland was her favorite of all the films she had made.
Though Babes in Toyland was not as successful as Walt had hoped, it paved the way for future musicals at The Walt Disney Studios. Just three years later Walt would again invest in another live action musical, Mary Poppins, which would become one of the most successful Disney films during his lifetime.
-From 1961 to 1963, several sets from Babes in Toyland including the “pumpkin house,” Mary’s garden, the trees from the Forest of No Return, and the “shoe house” were on display at the Opera House in Disneyland.
-In the 1934 film version, live actors portrayed characters that looked very much like Mickey Mouse and Disney’s Three Little Pigs.
-Be sure to look closely at the back of the wooden soldiers in the “March of the Toys” scene, soldiers with their straps that make an “X” shape were animated by Imagineer X Atencio.
-Of the five times actors Tommy Kirk (Grumio) and Kevin Corcoran (Boy Blue) shared the screen together Babes in Toyland was the only collaboration in which they did not play brothers.
-The 1937 success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs inspired MGM Studios to create their own fairy tale which resulted in the classic film The Wizard of Oz. Walt toyed with the idea of incorporating live-action with animation in his own version of Oz. Over the years this idea evolved and instead took shape as Babes in Toyland. Ray Bolger would play roles in both features, as the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz and as Barnaby in Toyland.
-During the song “I Can’t Do the Sum,” Annette Funicello’s character Mary Contrary playfully explores the possibility of saving money on shoes by walking on her hands instead of her feet. In order to achieve the effect of Annette walking upside-down, technicians had to wire all of the clothing she wore. The wig she wore was also wired so her hair did not fall down in front of her face.
-Animator and Imagineer Bill Justice was part of the team that brought the stop-motion toy soldier battle to life. Justice also incorporated the soldiers into the holiday parades at Disneyland. Every year the soldiers make their appearance during the holidays at Disney Parks, and are exact replicas of the original stop-motion figures used in Babes in Toyland.
To learn more about the making of Walt Disney’s live action films please visit our main galleries. We invite you also to learn more about the Disney family’s holiday traditions in Home for the Holidays at Carolwood, a special installation featuring a model of the family’s Carolwood home, on view until January 9, 2017.
Guest Experience Associate at The Walt Disney Family Museum