Holiday Favorites: “March of the Wooden Soldiers”

Year: 1934

Runtime: 77 minutes

Directors: Gus Meins, Charles Rogers

Writers: Frank Butler, Nick Grinde

Actors: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charlotte Henry, Felix Knight, Florence Roberts, Henry Brandon

By Joan Amenn

Toyland! Toyland!

Little boy and girl land,

While you dwell within it, you are ever happy then

– “Toyland,” Victor Herbert

Sentimental family musicals seem most appropriate for holiday viewing and the “March of the Wooden Soldiers” (1934) has filled that necessity for decades. Adapted from the operetta titled “Babes in Toyland” by Victor Herbert, the film version features the comedic genius of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. It doesn’t get much better for chasing away any lingering holiday blues then to watch “The Boys” do what they did best and join in humming a few memorable songs too.

A staple of syndicated television programming, “March of the Wooden Soldiers” was the brainchild of legendary comedic producer Hal Roach. He brought the two funny men together in 1927 and they became one of his hottest properties through 1940. “March of the Wooden Soldiers” received uncredited script contributions from Stan himself, which was not unusual in the films the duo appeared in. It also has some interesting cameos from a few anthropomorphic critters that seem to have wandered in from another studio.

The plot is about a love triangle between the less than diligent shepherdess Bo Peep (Charlotte Henry), the Piper’s son Tom-Tom (Felix Knight) and stingy, old Barnaby (Henry Brandon). Brandon was actually only twenty-one at the time of filming, but is remarkably effective as the whiskered, sneering villain. Stan and Ollie are supporting players but of course, steal the show. Then there are the Three Little Pigs who strangely seem to be playing a short riff of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” from the animated short by Walt Disney. There is even a mischievous mouse that looks suspiciously like a certain national icon also created by Disney. Turns out, Walt was good friends with Hal Roach and gave permission for these references to his studio’s work in the film.

The call to arms to the battalion of wooden soldiers as they prepare for battle is still rousing fun even though it is obviously stop motion. There is never any doubt that Barnaby and his nasty cohort of “Bogeymen” will be driven from Toyland, to the cheers of all its denizens, human and otherwise. Like “The Wizard of Oz” that would be filmed only five years later, “March of the Wooden Soldiers” is an excuse to be a kid again, whether there are children present in your living room or not. Hot cider and gingerbread are certainly not essential to viewing but are highly recommended.

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