Mediocre: Babes in Toyland

Babes in Toyland (1986)
Directed by Clive Donner
Written by Glen MacDonough, Paul Zindel
Produced by Tony Ford, Neil T. Maffeo, Anthony Spinner, Bill Finnegan, Patricia Finnegan, Sheldon Pinchuk
Starring Drew Barrymore, Richard Mulligan, Keanu Reeves, Jill Schoelen, Googy Gress, Pat Morita, Eileen Brennan, Walter Buschhoff, Shari Weiser, Rolf Knie, Gaston Häni, Pipo Sosman, Chad Carlson
Middling production values and design, clever yet unmemorable musical numbers and plenteous daffy havoc distinguish this sweet yet slight televised adaptation of Victor Herbert’s and Glen MacDonough’s fabular operetta from its six predecessors. One inanely implausible automotive accident during a blizzard on Christmas Eve delivers a preteen (Barrymore) to a fantastic municipality resembling a tidy, second-rate theme park populated by bipedally anthropomorphic animals and characters from nursery rhymes to unite a pair of lovers (Reeves, Schoelen), learn a few lessons from a magian artisan (Morita) in Santa’s employ, and thwart the maniacally pleonexic designs of a feathered, usurious scoundrel (Mulligan). For adults, entertainment resides in these principals’ alternately wooden and hammy delivery, and Donner’s perfunctory direction leaves but a bit to the imagination, but this musical’s adequate for families whose wee ones aren’t yet terribly demanding, fans of America’s favorite little addict when she was still only incipiently corrupt, and anyone apt to ogle Reeves and Schoelen for their pulchritude. Brennan’s comic timing exceeds that of her co-stars, but she’s granted regrettably scanty screen time. Don’t expect much of Herbert’s music, which is quoted occasionally in Leslie Bricusse’s score and songs. Two versions were broadcast in the United States and Germany, respectively running 140 and 95 minutes; the condensed shorter of these is commonly available on videocassette and videodisc, though both are streamed by various services.

Recommended for a double feature paired with The Wizard of Oz or Disney’s superior Babes in Toyland.

Favorites: Freaked

Freaked (1993)
Directed by Tom Stern, Alex Winter
Written by Tom Stern, Alex Winter, Tim Burns
Produced by Stephen Chiodo, Harry J. Ufland, Mary Jane Ufland, Alex Winter
Starring Alex Winter, Michael Stoyanov, Megan Ward, Randy Quaid, Keanu Reeves, Brooke Shields
Massive, murderous Rastafarian eyeballs, a vermicious zoologist, transgendered Mr. T and a grisly menagerie of faunal hybrids are among the multifarious choleric, conflated, fanged, feral, foul, gawky, ghoulish, gratuitous, grungy, malign, meshuga, mutinous, nauseant, obstreperous, outrageous, perverse, precipitous, pugnacious, savage, shameless chimeras who run amok in this theatrical follow-up to Winter’s and Stern’s goofy televised sketch series, The Idiot Box. A contumelious, acquisitive actor (Winter) and his obnoxious buddy (Stoyanov) are whisked to a fictional Latin American nation by an unscrupulous multinational to endorse an inexplicably ruinous toxic fertilizer they’ve disseminated for a $5M paycheck. After befriending a pretty yet peevish environmental activist (Ward) under starkly false pretenses, both the reprobate duo and their censorious acquaintance are seized by a redneck mad scientist and theme park proprietor (Quaid) who bestows the aforementioned goop to metamorphose his many captives into themed monstrosities. Stern and Winter sustain the brisk pace of this unabashedly antic farce with an abundance of sight gags, hammy acting, recurrent tumult and nauseating special effects. Alas, Peter Chernin spoiled this picture’s potential success by slashing its post-production budget and limiting its distribution to a paltry pair of theaters in the worst executive sabotage of a substantial project since Dawn Steel undermined Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, but even the debased theatrical cut reflects more inspiration (in the style of Mad magazine) than a score of contemporary comedies. It’s as ludicrous as humor comes, but if you care to gauge your maturity, just try to suppress your giggles through its duration.