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March of the Wooden Soldiers (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 19, 2010 by  



“March of the Wooden Soldiers” is a Laurel & Hardy classic that arrives just in time on Blu-ray for the holidays.  With its budget price and the amount of special features plus the fact that you get both B/W and color versions of the film is awesome!  Definitely recommended for Laurel & Hardy fans!

Images courtesy of © 2006 Legend Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: March of the Wooden Soldiers (Babes in Toyland)

FILM RELEASE DATE: 1934

DURATION: 77 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:33:1), English 2.0 Mono, B&W and Color Versions

COMPANY: Legend Films, Inc.

RATED: NOT RATED

Release Date: September 14, 2010

Directed by Gus Meins, Charley Rogers

Based on the Book by Glen MacDonough

Screenplay by Frank Butler and Nick Grinde

Libretto by Anna Alice Chapin

Produced by Hal Roach

Cinematography by Francis Corby, Art Lloyd

Edited by Bert Jordan, William H. Terhune

Starring:

Stan Laurel as Stannie Dum

Oliver Hardy as Ollie Dee

Virginia Karns as Mother Goose

Charlotte Henry as Little Bo-Peep

Felix Knight as Tom-Tom Piper

Florence Roberts as Mother Widow Peep

Henry Brandon as Silas Barnaby

Imagine an enchanted fantasy world of timeless characters and magical moments where nothing goes right for the clumsy toymakers, Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee.  When notorious scoundrel, Barnaby demands to marry the beautiful Little Bo Peep, guess who secretly emerges as the bride?  Based on the original “Babes in Toyland” this movie is a dazzling spectacle of 6-foot wooden soldiers, Mother Goose characters and the beloved team of Laurel & Hardy.

“Babes in Toyland” or known to many as “March of the Wooden Soldiers” has been an annual Christmas film that has been shown on television for decades.  Many people have grown up with this Laurel & Hardy classic and now, the 1934 film gets its re-released on Blu-ray via two restored versions in its original black and white and utilizing Legend Films colorization process.

As for the two different titles, back in 1934 when “Babes in Toyland” was released, in 1948 for its re-released by Lippert Pictures, the film was edited down to 73-minutes and for years, many people have watched this version of the film.  For this re-released version, the version included on Blu-ray is a 77-minute version but instead of using “Babes in Toyland”, Legend Films has opted to use “March of the Wooden Soldiers”.

“March of the Wooden Soldiers” is based on the libretto by Glen MacDonough and for the film adaptation directed by Gus Meins and Charley Rogers and a screenplay adaptation by Frank Butler and Nick Grinde, the film takes place in Toyland where many fairy tale characters live.

In a shoe lives the family which include Mother Peep (played by Florence Roberts), her two songs Stannie Dum (played by Stan Laurel), Ollie Dee (played by Oliver Hardy) and her daughter Little Bo-Peep (played by Charlotte Henry).  The day has been quite rough for the family as the mortgage owner for the home that they live in, owned by the villainous Silas Barnaby (played by Henry Brandon) threatens Mother Peep that he will kick them out of the house if he doesn’t not receive the mortgage payment.    Meanwhile, Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep and can not find them.

To help calm their mother down, Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee tell their mother that they will ask for an advance from the Toymaker that they work for.  But while at work, the clumsy brothers debate on who will ask their boss about a payment advance but the toymaker is not in the mood to hear anything from them.

As Santa Claus has stop by to check his order, Santa has ordered wooden soldiers for the children.  The problem is that Stan has accidentally taken Santa’s order wrong and made the toymakers create 100 wooden soldiers at six feet tall but Santa wanted 600 soldiers at one foot tall.  To make matters worse, when both Stannie and Ollie activate one of the six foot soldiers, it goes amok and destroys the toymakers workshop and they are fired from their job.

As for Little Bo-Peep, she continues to look for her sheep, as do others in Toyland…but fortunately Tom-Tom Piper (played by Felix Knight), who has always been smitten by Bo-Peep promises he will do all it takes to find them and confesses his love for her.  The sheep return and the two decide to get married.  But watching them from afar is Silas Barnaby who comes up with an idea.

Silas returns to Mother Widow Peep for his money and when she finds out that Stannie and Ollie could not get the money to pay off the mortgage, he gives Mother Widow Peep a choice.  He will drop the mortgage if he marries Little Bo-Peep. Bo-Peep has no intention of marrying Silas but with the threat of losing her home, she feels that she has no choice.

But Stannie and Ollie come up with a plan to prevent Bo-Peep from marrying Silas Barnaby.  But will it work?

VIDEO:

“March of the Wooden Soldiers” is presented in 1080p (1:33:1) and is the first Blu-ray release from Legend Films.  Bare in mind that this film is available in public domain but this is probably the best version of the film to own at this time.  I have seen others who have said the MGM Holiday boxset with the film on DVD is much better but seriously, with the Blu-ray release having a much higher bitrate, the Blu-ray version is the better looking of the two.

I’ve heard people complain that there are no blacks and only grays.  I saw blacks but is the contrast perfect… No.  Is it fantastic as other bigger companies or the Criterion Collection have invested in their classic films?  No, but the fact that Legend Films is getting involved in the Blu-ray scene, with their first release, this is where they get to learn what people want to see on Blu-ray, especially since they have done several classics as I would love to see them bring out “My Man Godfrey” on Blu-ray.

As for the colorization of the film, if there is one thing that Legend Films excels at and that is their colorization process.  I tend to dislike black and white films being colorized especially the way Turner did their colorization back in the early ’90s but Legend Films uses better technology and so far, watching “My Man Godfrey” on DVD and now watching “March of the Wooden Soldiers” on Blu-ray, I’m quite content with their colorization.  They do a fantastic job!  Now whether or not the clothing and hair is accurate, I don’t know.  But I know for “My Man Godfrey”, they did the research of what colors the costumes were and I would assume they would have done the same type of research on this release.

With that being said, I still prefer the black and white version of the film.

AUDIO:

“March of the Wooden Soldiers” is presented in Dolby Digital Mono but seeing they put 2.0 mono, I’m assuming that they meant stereo or putting two mono tracks to the left and right speaker.  Nevertheless, dialogue and music is clear and heard no major pops or hissing during the film.

You will hear some degradation with some of the classic shorts in the special features.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“March of the Wooden Soldiers” features the following special features:

  • Origintal Theatrical Trailer – Featuring the B&W and color trailers for “March of the Wooden Soldiers” plus trailers for “A Christmas Wish”, “Beyond Christmas” and “The Shirley Temple Storybook Collection”.
  • Christmas Trailer Gallery
  • Bonus Animated Movie: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – (8:28) A classic Rudolph Technicolor animated short.
  • Rare Laurel & Hardy Short Film – (4:45) A Department of Agriculture Laurel & Hardy environmental colored short from the ’50s.
  • Christmas Toyshop – (9:18) A B&W Christmas short from the ’30s or ’40s (part live/part animated).   Two kids who are excited about Christmas wakeup to find Santa Claus in their living room.
  • Howdy Doody’s Christmas Special – (7:18)  Howdy Doody and friends in a Christmas short.
  • Christmas ’45 Theater Greeting – (:50) Christmas 1945 theater greeting.
  • A Message from Santa – (:36) A quick message from Santa.
  • ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – (8:05) A Castle Films B&W short featuring Santa delivering his toys on Christmas.
  • Merry Christmas – (8:49) A Castle Films B&W short about Santa Claus and the elves working at Santa’s toy workshop.
  • Jingle Bells – (2:08) A color classic sing-along .
  • Classic Toy Commercials – (8:53) Classic toy commercials that are an interesting but enjoyable addition to this Blu-ray release.
  • The Little Rascals Happy New Year Greeting – (:28) Featuring a greeting from the Little Rascals singing “Happy New Year to you”.

When it comes to Laurel & Hardy, fans have felt that Americans have gotten the shaft when other countries especially the UK have received wonderful Laurel & Hardy DVD releases (especially the wonderful Universal Laurel & Hardy DVD box set).  Sure we have had the lost Laurel & Hardy DVD set (which came out and then made out of print) and there are a few movies released on DVD.

But when it comes to Blu-ray releases, it’s one thing to get Chaplin or Keaton on Blu-ray but for Laurel & Hardy, no one ever knows if any of Hal Roach-related releases such as Laurel and Hardy,  Harold Lloyd, Charley Chase or Little Rascals releases will ever be released on Blu-ray, so I have to admit that I was a bit surprised and also a bit giddy that there was a Laurel and Hardy film set for release on Blu-ray courtesy of Legend Films.  One, we are getting a popular Christmas classic in black and white and color but also, Legend Films are now taking their first step in High Definition.

And I was very surprised to find out that this Blu-ray release was going for less than $10.  It’s important to note that Legend Films are nowhere near Criterion Collection or KINO status but they do have the potential to become fan favorites for classic movie and TV show fans because of the titles they have released on DVD thus far.  In fact, “March of the Wooden Soldiers” is a pretty solid release for its price.  Not only do you get a pretty good B&W release, you also get a colorized version and when it comes to colorization, Legend Films excels at it.

Sure, the company has taken on many titles that were released on public domain but compared to other companies that also take on PD titles, Legend Films has a solid track record for releasing solid black and white and solid colorization of restored films.  And the fact that they are releasing on Blu-ray does make me happy.

I know that a few people have said that they did not see and blacks and their blacks were grays.  In my experience, that was not the case, so I’m guessing depending on your setup, it’s all subjective.  But compare to the MGM release years ago (from the MGM Holiday Classics DVD box set), I still feel this Blu-ray release tops it in picture quality.

Also, I was surprised to see so many classic Christmas special features added to this release as well and although many have nothing to do with Laurel & Hardy, they do take place around the same time period that the duo were still performing onscreen.  Personally, I thought it was cool to see the Little Rascals singing a Christmas message, especially singing the classic Holiday shorts.

Overall, “March of the Wooden Soldiers” was a pleasant surprise as I was not expecting Legend Films to release on Blu-ray but I’m glad they have.  Laurel & Hardy’s “Babes in Toyland” (March of the Wooden Soldiers) is ingrained in the heads of many generations of viewers as a Christmas classic that it was perfect timing for this Blu-ray release and also to add, a pleasant surprise as I purchased this Blu-ray for under $10.

If you enjoyed this classic, it’s definitely recommended on Blu-ray especially at the very low price you can find it for.  And I hope that this is a signal that more Legend Films releases will be on Blu-ray in the near future.  Laurel & Hardy fans, this release is recommended!






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