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March of the Wooden Soldiers: The Original Christmas Classic

Overview

March of the Wooden Soldiers, also known as Babes in Toyland, was not the first Christmas themed movie. This 1934 movie was the first Christmas themed movie to become a perennial part of Christmas television programming. It is a good example of the humor of the comic duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. There were 3 remakes of Babes in Toyland.[i] None of the remakes had the prominence of the original. With the movie over 80 years old it gives a good indicator of what has changed and what remains the same. The fist indicator of a change is in the opening title sequence. The film opens with the screen stating; “This picture approved by the Production Code Administration of the Motion Picture Producers & Distributors of America.” The Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, started in 1930 and strict enforcement began in 1934. Then to the lower left of the roaring MGM lion there is a logo of an eagle silhouette with the initials NRA. The initials stand for the National Recovery Administration, a depression era Federal Agency, not the National Rifle Association. This article contains spoilers.

There is a colorized version of the movie available. The family of Laurel and Hardy were big fans of colorization. They believed color versions of Laurel and Hardy movies would better showcase Laurel and Hardy to modern audiences. The Mother Goose characters and settings make March of the Wooden Soldiers a good choice for a movie to make the case for colorization.


[i] These include a 1961 movie staring, Tommy Sands and Annette Funicello, a 1986 TV movie staring, Drew Barrymore, and a 1997 animated movie. There were also 2 TV movies of the same name in 1954 & 1955.

The Movie

The movie opens with Mother Goose (Virginia Karns) singing Toyland. The song’s prelude seems especially written for those who first watched this movie as children. The opening scenes are of a typical morning in Toyland. It shows the characters in Mother Goose rhymes. Enter the villain Silas Barnaby (Henry Brandon), the crooked man who lived in the crooked house. Barnaby wants to marry the eldest daughter of the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe (Florence Roberts), Little Bo-Peep (Charlotte Henry). Barnaby proposes to Bo-Peep. When she balks Barnaby gives her a thinly veiled threat. Bo-Peep firmly tells him:

I wouldn’t marry you if you were young, which you can’t be.[i] Honest which you never were, and if you were about to die tomorrow which is too much to hope for.

It is arguably one of the most forceful verbal rejections in movie history. Barnaby threatens Mother Peep with foreclosure if the mortgage isn’t paid. Ollie Dee (Oliver Hardy) wants to give his savings $1.47 to Mother Peep to pay the mortgage but Stannie Dum (Stan Laurel) spent the money to buy pee-wees. In 1934 hitting pee-wees was a common game. Pee-wees don’t have the boomerang effect shown in the movie. Stannie got Santa Clause’s order for toy soldiers wrong. So instead of making 600 soldiers 1 foot tall the factory made 100 soldiers 6 feet tall. This got Stannie and Ollie fired.

Tom-Tom (Felix Knight) proposes and Bo-Peep joyfully accepts after a playful game of “hard to get”. Ollie unsuccessfully tried to get the mortgage by pick pocketing. He and Stannie tried burglary. Stannie, in typical Laurel fashion, doomed the plan. Stannie and Ollie were sentenced to be tortured by dunking and banished to Bogeyland. Old King Cole was a merry old soul and laughed as Ollie was being dunked. Bogeyland was populated by half man and half animal beasts that eat people alive. Banishment to Bogeyland was equivalent to feeding someone to zombies. Bo-Peep agreed to marry Barnaby so he dropped the charges.

Everyone is heartbroken when Barnaby and Bo-Peep are pronounced man and wife. Barnaby hands over the mortgage to Ollie who tears up the mortgage then lifts the veil on the wife. It’s Stannie in the wedding dress. When Ollie tells Stannie he has to live with Barnaby since they are now married Stannie whimpers. In 1934 the situation was ludicrous. Today the joke may be dated.

Barnaby plans to frame Tom Tom. He blows over the house of Elmer, the little pig with a house of straw, in Big Bad Wolf fashion. His plan works long enough for Tom Tom to get banished to Bogeyland.[ii] Ollie and Stannie rescue the Elmer. The townspeople chase after Barnaby and Bo-Peep takes the raft to Bogyland to find Tom Tom.

The action starts about 15 minutes before the end of the movie. Barnaby finds Bo-Peep and Tom Tom and the two men fight. Barnaby summons the Bogeymen. Stannie and Ollie find Tom Tom and Bo-Peep then lead them back to Toyland. Barnaby leads the Bogeymen in an attack on Toyland. The Bogeymen rampage until Stan and Ollie activate the wooden soldiers. Here, and at other times in the movie, they use their middle finger to press. Then the action meant nothing. Today such a move wouldn’t be allowed in a children’s movie. There is about a minute of stop motion animation, which includes a few seconds of split screen with the stop motion on one side and Stannie and Ollie on the other side. The wooden soldiers drive the Bogeymen out of Toyland. Stannie and Ollie decide to use the cannon to give the Bogeymen a parting shot. The plan literally backfires with great comedic effect.

Much of the movie’s humor involves wordplay. The plot is slow moving by today’s standards. The song scenes are lackluster compared to the action packed song scenes in Disney cartoon movies. It is questionable how many children will catch many of the Mother Goose rhyme references. While it is still a movie children can watch it may be a movie adult audiences can better appreciate.

[i] Henry Brandon was 21 at the time, 4 years younger than Felix Knight who played her love, Tom Tom.

[ii] Tom Tom doesn’t get dunked.

Comments

Robert Sacchi (author) on March 25, 2018:

That it does. Thank you for reading and commenting. You might want to give this or some other Laurel and Hardy movie or short a look. For the time capsule purposes if nothing else.

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 25, 2018:

I've never seen this movie or anything by Laurel and Hardy actually, so I appreciated this review. It seems to capture so many elements of a bygone era.

Robert Sacchi (author) on November 06, 2017:

Yes, it's a fun movie to watch. Thanksgiving comes early this year so the Christmas Season may seem extra long.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 06, 2017:

Christmas movies started showing up on television in October of this year especially on the Hallmark channel. Now it will be nonstop until we are into the new year. November and December always seem to fly by quickly. It is a busy time of year. Would be fun to see March of the Wooden Soldiers again.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 17, 2017:

Wow! Of course I meant 1950s and not 1050s. My grandparents would have been really ahead of their time with a colored TV from that date. They would have had to slip into a time capsule and go forward in time. Haha!

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 26, 2017:

Yes, I remember them signing off by playing the National Anthem.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 26, 2017:

The early televisions were not on 24 hours a day and they needed some warm up time. Remember the old test patterns? I also remember Annette Funicello as one of the Mouseketeers. She was one of my favorites.

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 09, 2017:

Yes, I think everyone who experienced the family's first color TV set has a strange color story. I am glad you enjoyed the hub and stopped by to share.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on January 08, 2017:

Robert

We didn't get a colour TV until the late seventies, my Dad couldn't stand the 'orange' skin he said they always showed, it took us ten years to convince him you can adjust the colour tone!

In a sense, just like in a Laurel and Hardy movie!

I didn't remember the movie at first, but after a few of your descriptions of the scenes I do now and enjoyed this hub.

Lawrence

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 31, 2016:

That makes sense, 1991 was 25 years ago. I also remember Annette as one of the Mouseketeers. She was so committed to the Mouseketeers she didn't wear a bikini when she was in those beach party movies.

C E Clark from North Texas on December 31, 2016:

I don't mean that I remember Annette and Tommy from this movie. I don't. I just remember them from movies and television programs when I was very young. I even remember seeing Annette when she was still one of the Mouseketeers.

I know I saw this movie in color a long time ago, but I don't remember anything about it other than it was in color. So maybe it was when my daughter was little. She was 3 in '91.

Happy New Year, Robert!

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 30, 2016:

The version with Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands was released in 1961. The colorized version of the Laurel and Hardy movie came out in 1991. Thank you.

C E Clark from North Texas on December 30, 2016:

I'm sure I saw a colored version of this movie on TV when I was a kid, but I can't remember it. I do remember Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands. Tommy Sands was a looong time ago. Annette died 3 years ago or so.

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 18, 2016:

Yes, I noticed that typo I don't think there is a way for me to edit other's comments so I didn't see any reason in mentioning it. It is a warning for those who rely too heavily on spelling and grammer checkers. This is something that will get by the MS Word grammer checker.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 17, 2016:

I had to laugh at my comment with the typo. Obviously there were no colored TVs in 1050. I meant the 1950s. Yes...early colorized television broadcasts did not have the true crisp colors of today.

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 14, 2016:

That it is. My mother's parents were the first in the family to get a color TV, circa 1964. The picture tended to be more Green and White than anything else. Yes, amazing how times changed. Movies such as March of the Wooden Soldiers tend to illustrate that.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 13, 2016:

Sounds like a good time capsule movie to me. As to the colorization, I really prefer some of the old movies in black and white. Of course I grew up with black and white television. In the 1050s my grandparents had one of the new color TVs and we would occasionally go over there to watch something special. Amazing how times have changed!