Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thirty Days of Disney Movies, Day Eleven - Favorite Kids Film

Hey, I never said the Movie Challenge would be on consecutive days. ;-)

An indulgence in all things Pirates and a fun but exhausting weekend at Disneyland put me off schedule a bit, but I'm back to continue our 30-day retrospective of Disney movies. Today, we take a look at the best Disney kids film.

This is trickier than it sounds. When you consider it, Walt Disney and his successors haven't really made a lot of films specifically for the younger set. Family films, certainly, but few that specifically targeted kids. Consider the darker elements of Snow White, Pinocchio and Bambi. These movies can be downright scary with some very mature (for Disney) themes. Even less intense animated fare like Cinderella, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland are still very accessible and enjoyable for adults. Likewise for live-action comedies such as The Absent-Minded Professor or Son of Flubber. They're a bit silly, but I still find them very enjoyable without requiring the presence of an 8-year old.

In recent years the Walt Disney Studios has embraced kiddy flicks more, putting out G-Force, Beverly Hills Chihuahua and any number of doggy Buddies movies. They're innocuous trifles geared for a younger audience, modestly entertaining, but instantly forgettable. None of these I consider "favorites."

For that, I'll reach back to 1961 for Babes in Toyland, Disney's take on the storybook operetta by Victor Herbert and Glen MacDonough. The story is set in a town where all nursery rhyme characters reside and where they are about to celebrate the nuptials of Mary Contrary (Annette Funicello) and Tom the Piper's Son (Tommy Sands). Their joyous plans are soon dashed, however, when the jealous, misanthropic miser Barnaby (Ray Bolger) has Tom disposed of so that he may take the hand of the sweet Mary himself. Twists and double crosses ensue. Will evil Barnaby be foiled and the young lovers reunited? It's a Disney movie. What do you think?

Babes in Toyland is not a great film by any means. It's stagy and, at times, slow-paced. Sands and Annette are pretty dull as the young leads, and breezy song-and-dance man Bolger is entirely miscast (though he gives it his best shot) as the mustache-twirling villain. Still, Babes in Toyland is bright and colorful, with a enough bouncy tunes to appeal to kids. For adults, it has its charms too, mostly in its ability to bring together a stable of recognizable Disney stars from the 1950s and 60s. Aside from Mouseketeer Annette, there are Zorro alumni Henry Calvin and Gene Sheldon doing their best Laurel and Hardy impersonation as Barnaby's bumbling henchman. Ed Wynn (Alice in Wonderland, Mary Poppins) appears as the befuddled Toymaker and Tommy Kirk (Old Yeller, The Monkey's Uncle) is his nerdy assistant. For perspective, this assemblage of talent would be (for good or for ill) the equivalent of bringing together the stars of Hannah Montana, Suite Life and Sonny With a Chance for a Disney Channel movie extravaganza today.

The point is to produce mindless, childlike fun. Despite its faults, Babes in Toyland delivers just that.

I'll be pulling an all-nighter tomorrow to catch the midnight showing of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, so I'll be resuming the 30-day Disney movie challenge this weekend with a tale as old as time, Disney's greatest love story.

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