In Toyland, Stannie Dum (Stan Laurel) and Ollie Dee (Oliver Hardy) work in the toymaker's workshop, but get the sack when they make 100 6 foot high soldiers instead of 600 1 foot high soldiers for Santa. Meanwhile, their landlady's daughter, Little Bo Peep, is being forced to marry the evil Silas Barnaby in order for her mother to keep her house - how can Stannie and Ollie help?
You need to brush up on your nursery rhymes for this meticulously assembled fantasy, courtesy of the Hal Roach studios. It was written by Frank Butler and Nick Grinde (later to direct Boris Karloff horrors), and was basically a children's story turned into a vehicle for Laurel and Hardy, complete with operetta-style songs (although Stan and Ollie don't get a song themselves, for some reason).
Unfortunately Babes in Toyland is pretty low on classic L&H moments; there are a few funny lines ("Upset? I'm housebroken!") and situations (Stan tearfully contemplating a life spent married to Barnaby), but I think their humour works best in settings that are closer to real life, pitting them against overbearing bullies or domineering wives, rather than in the few operettas they made.
What makes this film memorable is the imagination and attention to detail shown throughout: try and spot all the traditional characters appearing, from Old King Cole and the Three Little Pigs to Tom Tom (the piper's son) and Simple Simon (complete with pieman). Although, wasn't it Old Mother Hubbard who lived in a shoe? Or was it L. Ron Hubbard?
Anyway, sheep-losing Little Bo Peep looks barely legal compared to the aged Barnaby, which brings us to another aspect of the film: its oddly unsettling quality, which is almost - but not quite - nightmarish at times. The inhabitants of Toyland live in fear of the Morlock-like Bogeymen from Bogeyland, who fail to keep their noses clean when they invade, with the intention of eating all the nice characters.
But for scares, these monsters are nothing compared to the live action version of Mickey Mouse (yes, really) who scurries around, winds up the cat (of Cat and the Fiddle fame) in pre-Tom and Jerry fashion, and is enough to give anyone the creeps. Babes in Toyland is a curiosity, then, but an absorbing one, never dull, and full of unexpected and bizarre touches. It's just not a great Laurel and Hardy comedy. Music by Victor Herbert and Frank Churchill.