March of the Wooden Soldiers
Growing up, Christmas was always an exciting time. Getting together with the whole family, vacation from school, cool toys for presents, and great TV during the month of December. There were lots of holiday specials and Christmas themed movies. One of those films was the 1934 Laurel and Hardy classic, March of the Wooden Soldiers. Although, the film was originally titled Babes in Toyland and when it was re-released in 1948 it was given a new title, March of the Wooden Soldiers. It had many other titles through out the years, but March was the title when I first saw it.
I think the first time I watched this film was sometime during the late ‘70’s or early ‘80’s. It always played around Thanksgiving and Christmas time on a New York City channel, WPIX Channel 11 that we were able to pick up in Utica. The film actually plays exclusively on the channel to this day. I fell in love with this film when I first saw it. It had great comedy from Laurel and Hardy and an amazing fantasy tale with nursery rhyme characters come to life. I watched it every Christmas until I was a teenager. I even taped it when I got my first VCR so I would have a copy of it that I could watch anytime I want. It’s a great film for kids and for the whole family and a must see around the holiday season.
The film is based on Victor Herbert’s 1903 operetta and was adapted to a motion picture, produced by Hal Roach and directed by Gus Meins and Charley Rogers. The movie puts comedic legends Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in a place named Toyland, where it includes a who’s who of fairy tale characters such as Mother Goose, Little Bo-Peep, The Three Little Pigs, The Cat and the Fiddle, and many others. Laurel and Hardy play Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee and live with the Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe, known as Mother Peep played by Florence Roberts. Stannie and Ollie work in a toy factory that provides toys for Santa Claus. Everyone lives in a magical happy land but lurking around the corner is the meanest man in town, Silas Barnaby, played by Henry Brandon. Barnaby owns propriety all over Toyland, and one of them is the shoe where Mother Peep lives. He comes looking for the mortgage payment, but Mother Peep doesn’t have it. He gives her till the end of the day to come up with the money. Stannie and Ollie come to the rescue and tell her they can ask their boss, the toy maker for the money. Barnaby doesn’t just have his eye on the cash but on Mother Peep’s daughter, Little Bo-Peep, played by Charlotte Henry. But, Peep’s interests are with Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son played by Felix Knight. Barnaby swears he’ll get Peep as his bride.
Stannie and Ollie don’t have much luck asking the toy maker for money since he’s in a miserable mood and doesn’t look like the type a person you can ask for a big favor. Santa makes a stop at the toy factory to check on his order. The boys bring out his order, which are the Wooden Soldiers. With one click of a button, one of the soldiers comes out of its box and over to Santa. But Mr. Claus tells them they screwed up the order. He wanted 600 soldiers at 1ft tall. Stannie is the one who screwed it up and thought he wanted 100 soldiers at 6ft tall. The toy maker is furious and fires them both. The two don’t leave without making more trouble as when they try to put the soldier back, it accidentally knocks down a shelf and steps on a bunch of toys. So, the boys leave with no jobs and no money for Mother Peep.
When the two go back home, Barnaby is waiting for them for the money. Unfortunately they give the bad news to Mother Peep. Barnaby tells them they’re out of the shoe unless Little Bo-Peep agrees to marry him. He gives them time to think about it and Stannie and Ollie try to come up with a plan to get that deed to the shoe. Their plan is to give Barnaby a surprise early Christmas present to get on his good side. Stannie rolls out a huge box, which has Ollie inside. The plan is to get the box inside, wait till Barnaby is asleep, and steal the deed. Barnaby lets Stannie inside and tells him he can’t open the present until Christmas. They almost get away with it, but when Stannie says good-night to Ollie and Ollie says it back, the two of them are caught.
The two are trialed for robbery by Old King Cole and their punishment is to be dunked and then banished to Bogeyland, which is a dark land across the river from Toyland that is infested by the Bogeymen which are half man, half animal and eat their prey alive. The whole town gathers around to watch the two get dunked. Ollie is the first one to get it. He is dunked by two hooded executioners and is almost drowned. Little Bo-Peep begs Barnaby to show some mercy. He tells her only if he marries him. Bo-Peep agrees and the boys are spared and the shoe is now Mother Peep’s. On the day of the wedding, it is very somber. The boys, mother, and Tom, Tom can’t believe this is happening. The bride is walked in Barnaby’s house by Ollie. Before the ceremony, Ollie makes sure that he gets the deed and when he does he tears it up. After the “I do’s”, the veil is removed only to reveal Stannie instead of Bo-Peep. They finally fooled Barnaby and he’s the laughing stock of the town.
With a thirst for revenge, Barnaby plots a plan to get them back. He knows that Bo-Peep is in love with Tom, Tom and wants to get rid of him. Barnaby plans on kidnapping one of the Three Little Pigs. Of course he gets the one in the house made of straw as he huffs and puffs and blows his house down. He has one of his henchmen plant false evidence in Tom, Tom’s house, that are the pig’s hat, fiddle, and some sausages for it looks like he grounded up the pig. When the King’s men find the evidence, they arrest Tom, Tom for pignapping and is banished to Bogeyland. Bo-Peep pleads with the King that he would never hurt the pig, but he doesn’t listen and the hooded executioners take Tom, Tom on a raft and go across the river and drop him off in Bogeyland. Gators are all over the place and Tom, Tom runs into the dark woods, hoping to not run into the Bogeymen.
As the evidence is left by Stannie and Ollie, Stannie starts to eat the sausage, he tells Ollie “It doesn’t taste like pig, it taste like pork.” Ollie grabs it away from him and tastes it for himself. He says, “that’s not pig nor pork, it’s beef!” The two believe that the pig is still alive and Barnaby has a hand in this. The boys find the pig in his house and present him to the King. The whole town is out for Barnaby’s head, but he makes a quick getaway jumping down his well. Stannie and Ollie wait by the well for Barnaby to come out, but little do they know that he went through a secret compartment that leads into Bogeyland. Little Bo-Peep gets on the raft to go and get Tom, Tom. As she gets across the river she dodges the gators and runs through Bogeyman to find her love.
Bo-Peep finds Tom, Tom and quickly tries to escape but then suddenly they run into the Bogeymen, which look like just people dressed in gorilla masks and fur suits. They start to chase the two around the place. Barnaby turns up and turns out he’s controlling all the Bogeymen. As Tom, Tom and Bo-Peep battle Barnaby and the Bogeymen, Stannie and Ollie end up falling asleep while waiting for Barnaby to come up from the well. The two drop a rock down the well to try and kill him. The two go down to get the body but see that he’s not even there. They see the hidden compartment and decide to venture off to look for him. Our two boys finally come face to face with The Bogeymen and see Barnaby at the lead. Stannie and Ollie end up getting Tom, Tom and Bo-Peep out of Bogeyland through the well and the whole town celebrates the return of them.
Barnaby leads the Bogeymen on the raft and right into Toyland. As Ollie describes what the Bogeymen look like, they start breaking through the gate and start to attack the town. Everyone runs in fear. The Bogeymen start breaking into homes and taking the children. Stannie and Ollie run into the toy factory and try to figure out a way to stop them. First they grab a box of darts and throw them at the Bogeymen. This stops some, but not all. Stannie looks over at the wooden soldiers and decides to use them. The soldiers are unleashed on the town and start attacking the Bogeymen. There’s some cool stop-motion animation when the soldiers come out of the top factor. The wooden soldiers trample over the Bogeymen with cool shots of the soldiers stepping on their face. There’s also a neat shot where a soldier is chasing one of the Bogeymen into a house and the soldier’s head gets ripped out when entering through the door but keeps pursuing him.
Barnaby tries to escape the soldiers’ wrath by running into a house made of toy blocks. The soldiers knock down the house making it look like the blocks crush Barnaby, but we never really see what happens to him. The soldiers then chase the Bogeymen away from Toyland and force them into the river with the hungry gators. The film ends with Stannie and Ollie filling up a cannon with darts to give the Bogeymen a parting shot but the cannon backfires and hits Ollie full of darts in his back and Stannie pulls the darts out as he squirms in pain.
Like I said before, the film is fun for the whole family. There’s also a few musical numbers mainly done by Tom, Tom and Bo-Peep. Although a children’s film, the movie has some scary elements. I remember watching this film as a kid and was scared of the Bogeymen and there are lots of elements geared for adults like how the Bogeymen eat people alive and the dunking of Ollie and also the suggestion of one of the pigs getting ground up. Watching it today, March of the Wooden Soldiers is very entertaining and is a must-watch for the holiday season.