There are films on a lots of actors and actresses’ filmographies that they may regret but the films themselves live on in infamy despite them. Holiday films in particular are ruthless in filling a good actor’s early IMDB.
The 1986 NBC TV film Babes in Toyland may be one of such films; a colorful pastel nursery vehicle based on the operetta for Drew Barrymore that excels in well…nothing in particular and yet it’s benign fuzzy come nightmare fuel nature and earnest cheesiness grants it a relative immortality. I’m sure Drew, being her well loved friendly self would probably say she had a fantastic time making this film.
Babes in Toyland was a good example of the slew of family and children’s entertainment from the environment of the cushy mid to late 80’s and 90’s, with its half bubble wrapped and half negligent new post Reagan take on suburbia. This climate provided a fertile ground for astoundingly ~quality~ films as this nursery rhyme explosion can attest. Somewhere along the line executives and focus groups in general forgot children had any form of really sophisticated mental capacity and henceforth a slew of TV and films of saccharine, “radical” gooeyness came forth. This surplus of surfing-njnja-at-Christmas-blow-up-CEOS-with-a-lego-set films left any aspiring thespian a chance at continued embarrassment in the future. I should know, that’s what I grew up on! Babes in Toyland was a kid’s pleasure, and a parent’s nightmare. I can’t however hate it.
I was born in 1989, so this film had long since premiered and most likely blocked out of mind for every actor involved, but every holiday season for most of the 90’s I dug its green boxed sleeve out from our Christmas decoration and movie box and watched it rather ad nauseum. At least once before Christmas. I loved it. I still do.
A wannabee Wizard of Oz ( like the original show itself, which is pretty brutal, 1903 wasn’t kidding around) Babes in Toyland, like most 80s and 90s children’s fare strangely criticizes capitalism and stresses family and safety (still topical today) with a kid versus big boss narrative (both literal and figurative) and also makes a point to have the central boss/ceo-ish type figure also be lecherous to make him extra unlikable. It’s no wonder Generation Y hates 1%er CEOS and awful bosses, all our media growing up was told to distrust them. And yet…..
The plot, like The Wizard of Oz starts in the real world. It’s Christmas Eve and Lisa (Drew Barymore) seems excited and is trying to get ready for the holiday. Instead of being able to be home, Lisa’s older sister Mary (Jill Schoelen) a customer service employee has to work at a large toy store owned by Barnie (Richard Mulligan), a mega creep who probably hits on her all the time. Lisa tries to stop her from going to work but Mary has to (way topical).
Meanwhile at home, Lisa, seeing on the television that a big snow storm is approaching and so (in a world without cell phones!) dashes to the toy store to warn everyone and more or less drag Lisa home. Lisa puncturing Barnie’s creeping on her sister and singlehandedly causing everyone to run out of the store (in such an 80’s empowered kid way) is one of the better parts of this segment. Considering we’re still dealing with harassment and lack of respect for women in the workplace today, and CEOS and business big honchos are still evil hoarding any and all economic recovery is still (disappointingly so) rather topical, creepy ass bear suits be damned this movie gets it all right!
After basically getting everyone fired, Lisa is gifted a sled and while they’re singing falls out of a jeep on the drive home and slides down a hill. After striking her head on a tree, she literally falls into Toyland, a colorful, sweet nightmare fuel bear-suit wearing cookie currency lead world from your preschool naptime hour ( I never napped during those periods, you couldn’t make me, so I’m assuming that’s what other kids dreamed of). All of her loved ones and their problems are recast as Mother Goose and nursery rhyme characters, with gloriously embarrassing costumes and cartoonish sets straight from quaint toddler and younger leaning B-list amusement parks.
In Toyland Mary becomes Mary Quite Contrary, now about to wed Barnaby Barnicle (also Richard Mulligan) but is really in love with Jack Nimble (an actually emoting fresh faced Keanu Reeves, who also plays Jack, Mary’s stock boy boyfriend in “reality” too). Lisa crashes the wedding and breaks up the affair which leads Jack to be framed by Barnaby for steeling all of the cookies (through a trap door in the floor that no one noticed before). It’s basically the equivalent of ransacking Fort Knox so it’s a big deal.They manage to get him
Here comes in the kindly Toymaster himself, Pat Morita, probably one of the better castings. Lisa and Mary appeal to him to help them deal with Barnaby for his crimes. Toymaster reveals both his unmoving giant wooden soldiers and his bottle of evil from the world he’s been sealing away. Barnaby sets his sights on the bottle yadda yadda yadda giant bird thing with a slimy all seeing eye.
Basically everyone after back and forth confrontations, and Jack getting captured again and Mary goes to investigate. Everyone eventually gets captured eventually and gassed with evil so it’s up to Lisa singing about Cincinnati (and convincing everyone else that they’re the people from Cincinnati?) to break them out of it.
Character development then drops out of nowhere suggesting Lisa didn’t like any of these toys or was never quite a child ever (implied by her helping with dinner and caring about her sister?) and its up to her and her need to ~believe~ to help defeat the evil approaching from the forest that Barnaby has unleashed. She does so and wakes the soldiers, helping save Toyland. Toymaster loads up a sleigh and lo and behold, he’s Santa! He and Lisa ride off and Lisa wakes up at home a la Judy Garland.
The youth of all known actors and Pat fricken Morita make this the perfect good-bad-really what is this film amazing. Babes In Toyland is for your viewing pleasure (or displeasure?) posted in its entirety on Youtube!
Enjoy kids (and kids at heart!)