I believe I may have mentioned before what an important part of my creative life my Grandma Beyer’s old 1960’s RCA Victor color TV was because of its ability to render the weekly Disney TV show in color. One of the most significant things we were moved to drive all the way to Mason City to see on a Sunday afternoon in the 1960’s was the wonderful Annette Funicello vehicle, Babes in Toyland. It was a musical remake of the 1903 Victor Herbert Operetta starring Annette (at a time before puberty made me secretly obsessed with seeing her naked) and Tommy Sands as the main fairy tale protagonists.
Disney had originally planned in 1955 to make this as another of their animated features, but he later combined it with his desire to make a Wizard of Oz-like live-action film, a colorful sound-stage musical.
The music was Victor Herbert’s, as was the basic story, but it was all done the Disney way with rewritten lyrics and even an adapted film score.
It featured Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow from Wizard of Oz) as the villain (a first for him). He played the evil Barnaby, the Crooked Man, who wanted to keep Mary Contrary and Tom Piper (Annette and Tommy Sands) from getting married and living happily ever after.
The bumbling henchmen Gonzorgo and Roderigo are played by a comedy duo who were also featured in Disney’s Zorro TV show from the 50’s. Their slapstick antics made the film for me as a gradeschool child who deeply appreciated Three-Stooges-style comedy. I particularly liked the way they turned on the villain and helped the heroes in the end. I thought that was the way stories of good and evil always had to end… saved by the clowns.
The cute kids in the story were also a part of the magical appeal. The story, after all, is told basically for them. So this movie had a lot to do with why I felt the need to become a children’s writer and write YA fantasy novels. The music didn’t hurt the appeal either. The Toymaker, Ed Wynn, was a character that probably turned me into a rabid toy-collector and someone you really don’t want to argue with over old toys at yard sales.
But probably the most important way this particular bit of Disneyana has influenced my life came through the march of the tin soldiers and the stop-motion battle of the toys at the end of the movie. That has informed almost the whole of my art goals. It has that certain je-ne-sais-quoi of childhood imagination that I am obsessed with reproducing.
You can probably see the fixation yourself if you take a look at this last Paffooney.