It was not until researching for these blogs that I found and saw the 1954 and 1997 adaptations, or found the original script for the operetta, or heard quite a bit of the music. The music is really what makes Toyland, so I find myself preferring the adaptations before 1986, which preserved Herbert's melodies.
However, you may have noticed something about these adaptations: they're all from the 20th century. Aside from restagings and new stage adaptations, nothing really major has been done with the property recently.
I mentioned in the blog about the original operetta that the plot didn't age well at all. Some of it (such as Alan's suicide option) is actually pretty bleak. The response to this has consistently been to create a wholly new story using a little of the original.
However, perhaps a new version could offer some revision that could bring the story to the 21st century without losing so much of the original. One major storytelling device: early on, establish where Toyland is in relation to the land where the story begins. Unlike the Disney adaptation, in the operetta, its location seems to be known to many characters.
Another is to flesh out the characters: why does Barnaby want to marry Mary? Why do Alan and Jane seem unaware of their uncle's wicked nature? How has the Toymaker gone wrong? If he dies in this version, does Grumio take over from him? Does Grumio have plans on what to do with the toy factory?
Another must is to not cut out the music. As I say, the music is the key piece of Toyland, but most modern musicals use music to advance the story or define the characters. Perhaps a skilled lyricist could help bring the songs up to date while not wholly rewriting them or tossing them out.
So, where will Babes in Toyland develop next? A major stage revival? A new film? A graphic novel? Who knows? But I certainly hope some of these suggestions I've made will be considered.
Here is my best to not really the best ranking of these adaptations of Babes in Toyland:
- The Laurel and Hardy adaptation, also known as The March of the Wooden Soldiers. Surprisingly, although this uses little of the original plot, it retains quite a lot of the music of the operetta and also still renders a musical comedy delight.
- Shirley Temple's TV version, for retaining a surprising amount of the original operetta's plot and still being a delightful musical, despite running under an hour.
- The Disney film adaptation, for attempting to bring the Herbert melodies to a new generation, and having a stunning cast, despite the plot falling apart halfway through the film.
- Max Liebman's TV versions, for bringing the wonderful music to homes through television broadcast, although it has the weakest plot of all of these adaptations.
- The 1997 animated film, for bringing the property to a new medium and having a plot that works. However, the dropping of most of the plot of the operetta and the music.
- The 1986 TV version, for replacing most of Herbert's music with forgettable songs and inserting a plot that promises to be more compelling than it actually was.