Welcome to another adventure into the the bizarre, the enchanting, and the wonderful world of terrible filmmaking. This time, we’ll take a look at a particular “favorite” of mine from the 80’s, one that is both incredibly creepy and just an overall hot mess. So grab your snow coats, crimped hair-dos, and long black fingernails, and let’s catch a ride on The Toy Master’s sleigh: It’s time for Babes in Toyland, the 80’s incarnation, starring a young (
possibly drug addicted) Drew Barrymore, the always “talented” Keanu Reeves, and Pat Morita.
Our story concerns that of Lisa (Drew Barrymore), a young girl who refuses to acknowledge she’s a minor (or a “child”.) After helping her sister get out of work, Lisa’s friends get into an accident, and she ends up being sent to the world of Toy Land. This is the home of all your favorite cheap, drug store plush toys, and has “incredible” interior design, including a bowling ball as a house – because face it, when you were 11 years old, rather than living in the Barbie Dream House, you’re dream was to spend your days in a circular shaped place with three tiny round windows, that clearly had no doors.
Once entering this “magical” world of fake set pieces, and rental bumper cars painted at Home Depo, Lisa becomes involved in the main drama of this land. There’s a girl, Mary (Jill Schoelen), who is supposed to marry Barnaby (Richard Mulligan), the dude that lives in the Bowling Ball. But really, Mary wants to get hitched with Jack (Keanu Reeves), who is the heir to the Toy Land Cookie Factory. But because Jack doesn’t wear ridiculous hats and he cuts his nails, he isn’t the right one for Mary.
Once Lisa gets the scoop on the situation from Jack’s friend Georgie (Googy Gress), she decides to break off the wedding, sending Toy Land into a crazy mess. So after his wedding is ruined, what does Barnaby plan to do? Turn Lisa into a troll, get Jack incarcerated for life, and steal all the evil in the world, of course….
Firstly, Babes in Toyland is obsessed with one particular part of America, known to the world as Cincinnati. The movie goes to great lengths to tell us how incredible this section of Ohio is, to almost disgusting detail. From random baseball players, to the Bengals, every tiny little thing about the city is thrown in whenever humanly possible. But over the years, all I’ve kept wondering is, why the heck is Cincinnati so important? And even though the movie has a song about its god-like significance, I’m still confused.
Pushing that to the side, you might be wondering from the mention above, who the heck is the Toy Master, and why does Pat Morita play him? Well, I actually can’t answer the later part (
stunt casting, I guess?), but as to the who – well, basically the Toy Master is the president ( or god) of Toy Land. He makes everything the children of the world desire and has incredibly creepy “helpers” to make sure his goals are accomplished.
The Toy Master is also the voice of reason. He basically likes to give the “T” (truth) whenever possible, especially to our leading lady. The amount of hints he drops that she is the “savior” of this situation is hilarious, and the amount of times she is idiotic enough to miss the point is equally as humorous.
All of this eventually leads to my two “favorite” sequences in the movie. One features Lisa, Georgie and The Toy Master battling Barnaby and his pet sidekick, a weird Cyclops bird named Trollog. No joke, this thing is probably the most interesting aspect of the entire movie. What executive said that this monster was okay to put in this movie? Did they rip a drawing out of a Brian Froud book and mix it with a lost design of H. R. Giger’s? What the heck happened here!?
If you’re curious what special power Trollog posses, it happens to be an all seeing eye (sort of like a crystal ball). So what is the only way to defeat this disturbing nostalgia artifact? Why paint his eye out, of course! Since the movie can’t burn it or pluck it out, painting was clearly the only solution.
After some more moments of awkward build up to further conflicts, we arrive to the other moment I mentioned. Lisa, Mary, Georgie and Jack are slowly being turned into trolls. Of course, this transformation is not physical (since the make up budget had been used up on Barnaby’s fake nails) but rather mental. Lisa, though, is unaffected by this spell – not because she’s a child, not because she’s a special snowflake of wonder and “uniqueness” – oh no, no, no….. it’s cause she’s from Cincinnati. Yeah, that’s right kids, if you come from the state of Ohio, you obviously cannot be affected by poisonous “magical” gases.
So if you’ve been able make it past these strange scenes, awful singing (including a voice that clearly isn’t Drew Barrymore’s) and costumes that were rented from a discount shop in Germany, then you deserve a gold star. You also will probably learn of the “twist” to the story – the Toy Master is, in the most obvious of ways, Santa Clause! And because Lisa has finally convinced herself that its okay that she’s under the legal age to drink in America, she can finally return to go ol’ Ohio and the movie can finally end!
So what can we learn from this version of Babes in Toyland? Well it is definitely The Wizard of Oz for the Christmas/Holiday season. Aside from it being a little girl that escapes to a strange land in which she learns her life lessons, the movie even decides to have the actors that play Lisa’s sister and friends in the real world ALSO play her friends in Toy Land. They even have Georgie be the Scarecrow and clearly have a secret “innocent” crush on Lisa (by gosh golly, thank you for not developing that further!)
Is this movie good? Uh no, if it was why would I include it here?! But should you watch it? If you’re looking for a movie that is perfect for Holiday Drinking Game material, this is your perfect choice. But unless you’re wanting to dive into the filmography of Barrymore or Reeves, this is definitely one to skip. But at least it puts you in the Holiday spirit, and its got Barnaby’s nails. Did I mention how obsessed I am with Barnaby’s nails?!
So have you ever watched this version of Babes in Toyland? What is your favorite bad Christmas/Holiday movie? Comment below with your thoughts and ideas!