I have to admit having a particular fondness, tied to very specific memories, for any and all renditions of the Victor Herbert operetta Babes in Toyland, which will be playing in its classic 1934 Laurel and Hardy version on the huge screen at Ellenville’s Shadowland Theatre this Saturday, December 17 in a special matinée performance. That goes for some stage presentations that I’ve seen over the years, as well as the 1980s TV movie starring Drew Barrymore and Keanu Reeves, along with a particularly bad animation that we picked up in a yard sale once.
I guess I saw the 1961 version – all pop colors and attitudes with peppy Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands as the young leads – at an impressionable-enough age that the marching animals, shot in stop-motion, trumped the flat Disney emotions of the day. And, like my son today, it mixed the ideas of toys grown large with similar effects anchoring The Nutcracker, The Borrowers, Alice in Wonderland and all the other kids’ classics that capture a child’s imagination, lending it a sense of ultimate control of the Blue Meanies of adulthood.
It wasn’t until later, when I was in my teens and newly conversant in irony and its mistress virtues, that I was first introduced to the Hal Roach antics of Monsieurs Stan and Ollie let loose on such standard holiday fare. And that was in a scratchy, heavily edited version that used to play on late-night or midday television as March of the Wooden Soldiers, enjoyed as much for its ludicrous costumed monsters and odd toys as the great comedy team’s routines or the underlying score.
The version being shown at Shadowland will be uncut, including a number of musical numbers left out of the television version (which always did seem even choppier than its ad breaks already achieved). “Toyland,” “Never Mind Bo Peep,” “Castles in Spain” and the orchestral “March of the Toys” are among the favorites. And like days of yore, this Saturday’s program will include such classic shorts as Bedtime Worries starring Our Gang; a Walter Lantz “cartune”, Toyland Premiere starring Oswald Rabbit and Laurel and Hardy; and the classic Betty Boop/Max Fleischer Poor Cinderella. All that are missing are the live vaudeville acts – but who knows what might happen?
“For anyone who loves film, or would like to introduce their families to the great classics of the past 90 years in a widescreen setting, this showing of the original Babes in Toyland at the Shadowland – one of the original movie theatres in Ulster County – should not be missed,” says screening presenter Ray Faiola, who started a series of matinée classics at the Ellenville theatre two years ago. “We’ll be announcing our February, March and April series next month.”
This screening starts at 4 p.m. this Saturday, December 17 at the Shadowland Theatre in Ellenville, located at 157 Canal Street, not far off Route 209. For further information, including reservations, call (845) 647-5511 or visit https://www.shadowlandtheatre.org.