We return to our look at weird Christmas movies with one that is more Christmas-oriented, and that most people would consider more conventional. After all, it stars the beloved comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, is based on an operetta by Victor Herbert, and features all kinds of old fashioned things from bygone eras. How could it help but be traditional?
But it is the traditional elements that make the1934 March of the Wooden Soldiers (AKA Babes in Toyland) one of weirdest movies of all time. These traditions go way, way back, down to the Winter celebration's pre-Christian, pagan roots. Come to think of it, Jesus Christ isn't even mentioned.
Sure, Santa Claus does a cameo, but in this context he's closer to what Phyllis Siefker wrote about in Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicolas, Spanning 50,000 Years -- a book you need to read to know what's really going on with these December rituals.
It takes place in Toyland, a town populated by characters out of Mother Goose, though some have been tweaked in peculiar ways. The Three Little Pigs are similar to those in 1933 Disney cartoon. The Mouse (who ran up the clock) looks like a caricature of Mickey, though his body looks like a premonition of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth's Rat Fink. He also throws bricks at the Cat (and the fiddle), like Ignatz in the comic strip Krazy Kat. It's hard to tell if it's homage, corporate sniping, or early pop culture referencing.
And Toyland has frightening medieval aspects: The stocks and dunking stool are used as public punishment/entertainment, overseen by hooded “executioners.” If that isn't enough, offenders are banished to Bogeyland.
After a same-sex wedding to fool the villian, Bo Peep and Tom Tom the Piper's Son get banished to Bogeyland, after which there's an odd quiet scene with transparent gnomes and the Sandman -- and then things really get wild.
Bogeyland turns out to be the subterranean home – with stalagmites, alligators, bats, spider webs, and built-in stairs -- of the “Bogeys,” classic half-animal Wild Men with fright wigs, horns, animalistic masks, claws, and furry suits with visible zippers and grass loin cloths, in the tradition of characters who scare children in festivals and rituals around the world.
Led by the villain, the Bogeys attack Toyland -- and (for a children's Christmas movie) All Holy Hell breaks loose. A horde of Bogeys flood the streets, knocking down doors, grabbing women . . . and children.
Fortunately, Toyland has its defenses. The Mouse drops bombs from a miniature airship – foreshadowing the underground comic book Mickey Mouse Meets the Air Pirates. Laurel and Hardy send out the wooden soldiers, who like an army of robots, defeat the invading horde, snatching Bo Peep from the arms of a Bogey. One wooden soldier even fights on with a little girl clinging to him after his head has been knocked off. Technology saves the day, as the wooden soldiers march from the fairy tale into science fiction.
It's wild holiday entertainment!