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A Tangled Tale of Toys and Reality

MOVIE REVIEW
Babes in Toyland

G -     

Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Year Released: 1986, 2023 Kino Lorber Blu-ray
Runtime: 1h 36m
Director(s): Clive Donner
Writer(s): Paul Zindel, Glen MacDonough (book)
Cast: Drew Barrymore, Keanu Reeves, Pat Morita, Richard Mulligan, Eileen Brennan, Jill Schoelen, Googy Gress
Where To Watch: available November 21, 2023; pre-order here www.kinolorber.com, or www.amazon.com


RAVING REVIEW: Venturing into the world of BABES IN TOYLAND, we embark on a journey through the 1986 adaptation of Victor Herbert's 1903 operetta. Directed by Clive Donner, the film spotlights a young Drew Barrymore navigating her way from childhood stardom to a role of increased complexity. Alongside her, Pat Morita and Keanu Reeves add their unique touches to this nostalgic venture. I have always held the 1961 classic close to my heart, so this version had an uphill battle from day one.


As the narrative unfolds against the backdrop of Christmas Eve, Barrymore's character, Lisa, finds herself thrust into the fantastical world of Toyland after an unforeseen accident. This world, mirroring her real life in Cincinnati, transforms acquaintances into mythical figures, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. The film's narrative structure, intertwining two distinct worlds, creates a cinematic experience that challenges and delights.

Toyland, with its amalgamation of nursery rhymes and fairy-tale motifs, ambitiously aims to create its unique mythology. Visually striking and imaginatively crafted, the setting, however, needs to capture the magical essence it seeks to emulate fully. The film's attempt to mirror the notion of classics like THE WIZARD OF OZ comes across as constrained, leaving Toyland feeling less like an enchanting universe and more like a manufactured playground. The film itself felt like a mix of GREMLINS meets RETURN TO OZ. 

In terms of performance, Barrymore brings her inherent charm to the role but appears somewhat restricted by the film's direction, limiting her ability to showcase her developing talent fully. In an early career role, Reeves delivers earnestly but is hemmed in by the script. As the Toymaster, Morita emerges as a standout, infusing the narrative with a warmth and depth that elevates the acting ensemble.

The musical aspect of BABES IN TOYLAND, while having its moments of catchy tunes, lacks the lasting impact and emotional depth typically associated with memorable musicals. The soundtrack, including the distinctive emphasis on Cincinnati, adds a layer of whimsy but only resonates deeply with its audience.

As BABES IN TOYLAND approaches its climax, it sets the stage for what should be a thrilling battle involving toy soldiers. Unfortunately, this pivotal moment underwhelms, lacking the dramatic tension and excitement it promises. This and other aspects of the film contribute to incompleteness, leaving viewers with unfulfilled potential. While watching the film, I had to remind myself this was a made-for-television-special from the mid-80s.

In summary, BABES IN TOYLAND is a valiant effort to breathe new life into a classic operetta. It features a cast of capable actors and a visually appealing backdrop but doesn’t fully harness these strengths. The film remains a charming piece of 1980s cinema but stops short of achieving the status of a timeless classic. While its attempt to recapture the magic of its illustrious predecessors is commendable, it doesn't leave a lasting mark on the musical fantasy genre.

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[photo courtesy of KINO LORBER]