I guess this qualifies as a fantasy too but to me it’s a holiday classic, thus the title. Every year during my childhood at Thanksgiving time WPIX (Channel11 in NYC) would show “The March of the Wooden Soldiers.” And even back then it was obvious that the movie was a throwback to an older time. What passed for costumes and “special effects” in this film would outrage even a toddler from today. The action was often interrupted while the romantic leads would burst into an operatic rendition of some fairly soporific song. Some of this is explained by the fact that the film was a reworking of a musical light opera that was staged under the name “Babes in Toyland.” And in fact, all of the movie’s shortcomings were even the subject of mockery on an episode of the Simpsons.
But none of this is at all important because of two extenuating circumstances, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, or as their characters are named Stanny Dum and Ollie Dee. Laurel and Hardy are the show. These two clowns keep the audience from wandering away, at least until the Wooden Soldiers are unleashed. Stan and Ollie move from one failure to the next, at every step, irritating every mean or impatient character they meet with their fumble-fingered efforts and their simple-minded attempts at cleverness. As I said, until the climax of the movie, they are the show.
The plot, such as it is, involves Stan and Ollie trying to prevent the evil miser Barnaby from evicting the Little Old Lady that Lives in the Shoe. One of her children is Little Bo Peep who is in love with Tom-Tom the Piper’s Son. After Stan and Ollie are foiled in attempting to steal the mortgage from Barnaby and are sentenced to be banished to Bogeyland (a place outside of Toyland where the savage Bogeymen live) Bo Peep agrees to marry Barnaby in exchange for forgiving the mortgage and releasing Stan and Ollie. This leads to further tomfoolery by Stan and Ollie. When Barnaby is defeated again in his desire to marry Bo Peep he conspires against Tom-Tom and gets him banished to Bogeyland. After the banishment, evidence is discovered by Stan and Ollie that exonerates Tom-Tom and proves Barnaby’s guilt. At this point Barnaby flees to Bogeyland to take command of the Bogeymen and lead them against Toyland.
The inhabitants of Toyland, being feeble nursery rhyme characters are helpless (mostly) against the savage Bogeymen. And all seems lost until suddenly Stanny Dum realizes that an earlier blunder of his would now be Toyland’s salvation. Working for the Toymaster he misunderstood Santa Claus’s order to make six hundred wooden soldiers one foot tall and instead made one hundred wooden soldiers six feet tall. Stan and Ollie activate the army and the soldiers get right to work and rout the bogeyman in stirring fashion, all to the accompaniment of the music that gives the movie its name, The March of the Wooden Soldiers.
I have to confess that even at my advanced age I always feel a thrill of excitement as the Wooden Soldiers assemble and march to the beat of the song and provide in their mechanical and disciplined way the just desserts that Barnaby and the savage Bogeymen so richly deserve. And right up until the very last frame Stan and Ollie are right there snatching personal defeat right out of the jaws of victory.
This movie is a museum piece with a hackneyed plot, obtrusive and boring songs and awful special effects. But Laurel and Hardy are worth the price of admission, namely your time. They are worthy buffoons who exaggerate our own foolishness. And for the little boy in every man, the Wooden Soldier battle is a stirring pantomime that actual little boys will enjoy. Highly recommended for the child in all of us.