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MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS
on 29 June 2001
March of the Wooden Soldiers (Babes in Toyland) is one of a few Laurel and Hardy features in which Hal Roach lost ownership. Over the years it has been reissued and mostly cut in the process on the grounds of the Bogeymen sequences being too grim or to remove some or all of the songs in a misguided attempt to concentrate Stan and Ollie`s scenes. It is only fairly recently that a complete pristine master has been produced and superbly computer colourised now looking better than it has for decades.
In its original form it is the best of the Laurel and Hardy operettas and, with its detailed studio created fantasy sets, is the most elaborate of all of their features.
The colour version is so carefully effected that it gives the appearance of an early Technicolour film providing an extra dimension and depth reinforcing a more credible Mickey Mouse and the Three Pigs which was not quite achieved in black and white.
Stan Laurel once said that his only regret about this film was that it had not been made in colour. This is probably the only Laurel and Hardy film to really benefit and be enhanced by an accurate colourisation.
The film is a successful attempt to appeal to all ages. It is interesting to note that Disney granted permission to use Mickey Mouse and the Three Pigs together with their theme song. Perhaps `Toyland` may just have given Walt some inspiration for his first Disneyland. In fact Disney studied this film quite closely and remade it under the original title `Babes in Toyland` with obvious mimics of Stan and Ollie, but it was a poor, jazzed-up, shadow of the original.
This version produced by Eureka Video is only mediocre The transfer, although black and white, appears to be taken from the colourised version. Picture quality and definition are good but the sound is unfortunately the original mono track and somewhat flat. It is interesting to note that the opening original MGM title and Board of Review certificate included in the US version is missing from the UK version of the film.
A still from `Bohemian Girl` is actually used on the DVD case which coupled with the only extra being a wonky transfer of `Hustling for Health` gives the impression that no one could really care less...
The best DVD of this film available is from the US by Goodtimes Video and available from AMAZON.com... It is also ALL region, so you do not even need a region free DVD player (although you will need an NTSC compatible TV, which most are now).
The US version is accurately and superbly colourised and the extras include the original theatrical trailer, short (1.5 mins) probably 16mm silent home movie of Stan and a 3.5 min sound interview of Ollie. The extras are of varying quality due to the source material.
Overall the UK version is a poor substitute for the US DVD which presents a high quality, excellent value, version of a delightful, enduring minor classic.
ROBERT C GRAHAM (UK)