So many Christmas traditions and stories we love can be traced back to the arts and how prominent they are. This is important to me as the arts are so important. Take, for example, theater. I imagine that when you think of Christmas and the theater, so many of you think of The Nutcracker.
That is indeed an important piece of Christmas theater and we will be touching upon an adaption of that later in the month where The Rat King is not the villain. However, there is another piece of Christmas theater art that sometimes gets overlooked: Babes in Toyland. This classic operetta has been adapted many times first came to prominence in 1903 with the same team that would give The Wizard of Oz life on stage.
Much like The Nutcracker, this piece of theater has seen many adaptions. Though from what I understand, the Disney version is perhaps an “In name only” adaption. Still, this movie is an interesting case of being something where modern audiences are perhaps more familiar with the iconography from the movie than they are the movie itself. This comes from the fact that the Toy Soldiers that show up in Disney Christmas parades come from this movie.
I know that I saw these soldiers in a parade long before I ever saw them in this movie.
You may not be familiar with the name Ray Bolger but I’m pretty sure that you’ve seen him before if you’ve ever seen The Wizard of Oz.
Yep, he was The Scarecrow. I believe that this was Bolger’s first villainous role and if that is the case, he does quite a good job of selling this character as a detestable sleazeball that is fun to hate. I’ll talk about this more when discussing his personality, he revels in being evil.
When we see Barnaby for the first time in the movie, he is spying on Mary Contrary and Tom Piper as they are to be married. However, this will not do for him as he wants to marry Mary to inherit a fortune that Mary doesn’t know about. Something I appreciate is seeing how the design of his house lets you in on his personality as it is crooked and not in the best care.
This goes to even his telescope which one can see the crookedness even extends to that item.
These small details are appreciated in showing details of what this villain is like.
He’s not the most layered villain but that’s okay. He’s sleazy, greedy, and crooked as I mentioned when looking at his first appearance. He is also quick to anger and does have a short temper when he learns that his henchmen have crossed him. And not because they crossed him but because they were so sloppy in how they went about doing it.
I brought this up but he wishes to marry Mary to inherit her money. A simple goal that is easy to comprehend and something else I find neat that you don’t see a lot is that he has multiple steps in how to achieve this goal starting with hiring two goons to throw Tom into the ocean so that he’ll drown and steal Bo Peep’s sheep so that there is no means of income for Mary or the children that she cares for. I do like this as it shows how much he has thought how what he plans to do.
Gonzorgo & Roderigo
These two are pretty fun as lackeys for Barnaby and as I stated, they even double-cross when they sell Tom to gypsies instead of throwing him in the ocean to drown. However, this is when their scheme is revealed as the gypsies come to Mother Goose Village to perform and Tom reveals himself as one of the gypsies.
Now, this is something else that is important to touch upon but in many ways, this movie feels like two stories in one with the first half being Barnaby trying to get rid of Tom and after Tom’s return, that’s when the Toyland stuff kicks in. As for these two, by the time the climactic battle in the Toymaker’s workshop comes, they’ve turned face and have become allies to the heroes. Before all this, they are drawn to work for Barnaby because of greed. They even got quite a fun song.
This is quite a fun number with how they trick Mary into believing that Tom has drowned. It helps in capturing the goofiness of these two. This brings me to something else that I noticed regarding these two is they gave me a classic comedy duo a la something like Laurel & Hardy, which is neat to consider as that particular duo did their own version of Babes in Toyland.
Most Evil Deed
Well, this is though as Barnaby isn’t the type to get his hands dirty exactly. I guess one could argue how he tricks Mary into thinking Tom has disappeared. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention how he uses as a shrink ray gun from the Toymaker’s assistant Grumio on Tom to make him the size of a toy. But to me, isn’t as impressive as what he was able to accomplish in the first half of the movie.
We Won’t Be Happy ‘Til We Get It
This number is quite fun as it sells you on the sliminess and sleaziness of Barnaby. He’ll do anything to get what he wants and he doesn’t care who he hurts or what he does to get it.
Castle in Spain
Barnaby has no tact or class as right after Tom is announced dead, he goes up to Mary to try and convince her to marry him.
He does this by describing his crooked and rundown house as a beautiful castle in Spain. And the thing is, he almost gets his wish as at one point, he seems as though Mary is going to marry Barnaby.
His demise is a bit weird as it’s never really elaborated on. I mentioned that he shrinks Tom down to the size of a toy. and well, the same happens to him and they have a swordfight in the workshop. After everyone is reverted back to normal size, the film doesn’t show what happened.
As the Disney Wiki states.
Barnaby’s fate in this version is unknown, one book shows him locked in the birdcage at the end of the story. Still, another one says that he was bound and gagged in his little form.
Most speculate that died during the battle, which is a bit grim but is a fate that has befallen most Disney villains.
Is Barnaby A Good Villain?
Good may not be the right word for Barnaby but he is certainly fun and one of the most entertaining aspects of this movie. IT is a bit of a shame that people only seem to know the toy soldiers from this movie as Bolger turns in such a fun cheesy and hammy performance as the film’s villain. Join me next time as we continue our look at Christmas movie villains with…