Babes in Waltland : Part I
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Babes in Waltland : Part I

Babes in Waltland : Part I

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As I told Jim Hill last week, if had I known this was going to be such a big deal, I would have paid closer attention at the time.

Babes in Toyland
Copyright 1961 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

Back in the 1960s while working at Walt Disney Studios, I had the opportunity to casually observe the development and production of “Babes in Toyland ,” the Company’s first attempt at a full-fledged live action movie musical. I confess that my attention was on other projects at the time, and I considered the finished product to be an interesting yet ultimately unimpressive motion picture.

My apologies if that opinion upsets all of you diehard Victor Herbert fans out there. But the only reason that “Babes in Toyland” initially grabbed my attention was that my favorite Disney animator was been tapped to direct. That’s right, the Old Maestro had chosen the brilliant yet quirky Ward Kimball to helm the Studio’s first big budget musical.

Babes in Toyland Laurel and Hardy
Copyright 1934 Hal Roach Studios. All Rights Reserved

Before we move any further here, let me add that Jim has informed me that Disney had to be familiar with the 1934 Laurel & Hardy version of “Babes in Toyland.” Given that Walt gave that film’s producer – Hollywood pioneer Hal Roach -- permission to use Mickey Mouse and the Three Little Pigs in that production.

Zip forward a quarter of a century or so, and Walt Disney Productions is now getting ready to put their own spin on this Herbert operetta. Mind you, this movie wasn’t supposed to be a remake of the Roach version. But clearly Gene Sheldon and Henry Calvin were channeling for Stan and Ollie when they played Roderigo and Gonzorgo.

Babes in Toyland
Copyright 1961 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

A visit to Ward Kimball’s Wing in upstairs 2D would reveal a treasure trove of toys and scale models as Kimball’s team prepared for this production. Ward already had a crew of skilled filmmakers at his disposal. A lot of these guys were responsible for the stellar effects work done in Kimball’s “Man in Space” films. And this group of hand-picked creatives would be responsible for all of the cool special effects in “Babes in Toyland.”

As this big budget movie ramped up for production, we knew that “Babes” was going to be a starring vehicle for Disney’s top babe at that time, Annette Funicello. Though “The Mickey Mouse Club” had been off the air for several years at this time, this former Mouseketeer still had legions of fans. And once Annette was teamed with teen heart throb Tommy Sands, we knew that this movie probably had hit written all over it.

Babes in Toyland Annette Funicello
Copyright 1961 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

However, Ward Kimball had yet to cast “Babes in Toyland” ‘s villain, Barnaby, and he came up with an unlikely choice. You can imagine our surprise when we arrive on the Stage Two set one day to find comedian Louie Nye in full make up and costume. For those of you who don’t remember, Louie Nye was a regular on the old “Steve Allen Show.” The guy who delivered the famous tagline, “Hi Ho, Steverino.”

Suddenly we thought that maybe “Babes in Toyland” had promise after all. Ward Kimball was not about to deliver another cutesy, saccharine kiddy flick, but perhaps something truly original and funny.

Louis Nye Babes in Toyland
I had to sketch this from memory. Ward Kimball directs Louie Bye on the set of "Babes in Toyland."
Cast as the evil Barnaby, Nye was famous back in the 1960s when he was a regular on the old "Steve Allen Show"

Construction on the “Babes in Toyland” sets was finally under way on Disney’s sizable Stage Two. Suddenly we were no longer jaded observers as we saw these impressive sets take shape. One of the first settings that the art directors created was this creepy wooded environment with animated trees. Think “The Wizard of Oz,” only more so. With such spectacular sets this underway, we began to reconsider our opinion of the movie.

However, let’s get back to our young stars, Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands. Annette’s curly brunette locks were given an auburn rinse. And of course, she looked gorgeous. Her co-star Tommy Sands looked … Well, I guess he looked gorgeous as well.

Nancy Sinatra Babes in Toyland
Nancy Sinatra and her boots

Back in the 1960s, this teen idol had married Nancy Sinatra, and Mrs. Sands often visited the Disney studio while the film was in production. Nancy Sinatra gained a degree of fame of her own that decade thanks to her hit single, “These Boots are Made for Walking.” However, not once did we ever see Frank Sinatra’s daughter in a pair of boots while she visited the Disney lot.

Then, suddenly, disaster struck. Walt Disney decided to replace the director of “Babes in Toyland.” Like shock waves, the news of Ward Kimball’s removal from the film rippled through the studio. “How could this be?” we all wondered. After all, this was the guy Walt had called a genius.

Ward Kimball Babes in Toyland
Walt looks on as Ward draws the Mad Hatter for the Studio's 1951 animated feature, "Alice in Wonderland."
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved
 
Production of “Babes in Toyland” would continue. But the reason that Kimball was fired, and who would replace him as director of this film would remain a mystery. For the moment, anyway.

This is something we’ll discuss in our final installment of this series.

Ray Bolger Babes in Toyland
Hmnn. That doesn't look like Louie Nye to me ...
Copyright 1961 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

Did you enjoy today's column about "Babes of Toyland"? Well, this is just one of the entertaining & insightful tales that this Disney Legend has to share. Many of which you'll find collected in the three books Floyd currently has the market. Each of which take an affectionate look back at all the years that Mr. Norman has spent working in the entertainment industry.

These include Floyd's original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's cataroo.com) as well as two follow-ups to that book, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.com.

And while you're at it, don't forget to check out Mr. Fun's Blog. Which is where Mr. Norman postings his musings when he's not writing for JHM.

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  • Disney Legend Floyd Norman concludes two part series on "Babes at Toyland." To be specific, the crucial role that this motion picture played in the creation of that Disney classic, "Mary Poppins" his

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