10 Facts About the Holiday Classic Babes in Toyland
It’s bright! It’s wonderful! A musical holiday of fun for everyone! Toyland has everything: Gypsy Fire Dancers! Sylvester, the Wise Quacking Goose! The Fabulous Toy Machine! The Forest of Talking Trees! Dancing Waters! Toy Soldiers that Come To Life!
So promised the poster for Disney’s Babes in Toyland, released in December of 1961. The film starred a host of Disney regulars and served as something of a precursor for Walt’s work on later live action musicals like Mary Poppins. Here are ten facts about the Disney holiday classic.
1. The Operetta
Disney based the film off Victor Herbert’s 1903 operetta of the same name. The piece was Herbert’s first major hit, opening at the Chicago Grand Opera House. It later ran in New York for 192 performances.
Prior to Disney’s production, the operetta appeared on the silver screen as a 1934 Laurel and Hardy film.
2. Babes In Toyland: The Animated Feature
Walt Disney originally intended for the film to be an animated production. A 1955 article in the Chicago Daily Tribute details Disney’s announcement to make the film as a cartoon.
3. George Bruns and Mel Leven
Disney took the music of Herbert’s original operetta and updated it to fit more modern trends. New lyrics were written by Mel Leven (who also wrote the song Cruella De Vil for 1961’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians). Legendary Disney composer George Bruns adapted Herbert’s original score.
4. Ray Bolger
The villain of Babes in Toyland, the nefarious Barnaby, was portrayed by Ray Bolger, best known for playing the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. Bolger also appeared in the Babes in Toyland Backstage Cast Party episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. The episode features the cast of Babes in Toyland hosting a wrap party. Bolger performs a soft shoe routine during the party while singing the popular jazz standard “Dinah”.
5. Annette Funicello
Best known as one of the original Mouseketeers on the Mickey Mouse Club, the film featured Annette Funicello as Mary Contrary. Funicello also served as the hostess of the Backstage Cast Party episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. In later years,Funicello called Babes in Toyland her favorite of all the films she made.
6. Tommy Sands
Teen idol Tommy Sands starred as Tom Piper, the hero of the film and love interest for Funicello’s Mary Contrary. Sands first achieved fame after appearing on the Kraft Television Theater program in the late 1950s. His song Teenage Crush, released in 1957, reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
7. Ed Wynn
Vaudeville and radio legend Ed Wynn appeared in the film as the Toymaker. Best known among Disney fans for his roles as the Mad Hatter of Alice in Wonderland, and Uncle Albert from Mary Poppins, Wynn brought his signature voice and bumbling antics to the part. Tommy Kirk (who also acted in Disney films like The Shaggy Dog, Old Yeller, and The Swiss Family Robinson) acted as Grumio, the Toymaker’s brilliant assistant. Kirk later talked fondly of his time working with Wynn.
“I thought he was delightful and so did everyone else,” Kirk said. “You couldn’t not like him. He was completely crazy and he was just as crazy offscreen as he was on. But it was all, of course, an act. He was a very serious, religious man in his own way, but he loved playing Ed Wynn, the perfect fool, the complete nut. And he was good at it.”
8. Henry Calvin and Gene Sheldon
The roles of Gonzorgo and Roderigo, Barnaby’s hirelings, were performed by Henry Calvin and Gene Sheldon. Disney aficionados will remember Calvin and Sheldon from the live action Zorro series with Calvin appearing as Sergeant Garcia and Sheldon as Bernardo. Sheldon also appeared in the televised version of Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe Revue, performing as a banjo player.
9. Francis Xavier Atencio
Francis Xavier Atencio, known to most as X, worked on the film designing some of the toy soldiers that come to life. Viewers can spot the soldiers worked on by looking at their backs. The straps of their uniforms form an X.
10. Christmas Parades
The legacy of Babes in Toyland can still be felt in the Disney parks. The toy soldiers appear annually in the parks’ holiday parades. Imagineer Bill Justice helped design the soldiers for the film and the original soldiers used in the Disneyland Christmas parades.