Friday, December 24, 2010

Babes In Toyland (Not The Band)

To hell with hackers!  We have a time-honored holiday tradition around here, and damn it, we're going to honor it.  So allow us to present the Wo'C annual crappy Christmas movie:

Babes in Toyland (1986)
Directed by Clive Donner
Written by Paul Zindel

Don’t get your hopes up.  This is not the 1934 Laurel and Hardy version.  It’s not even the 1961 Annette Funicello–Ray Bolger remake.  In fact, it doesn’t even use the Victor Herbert score, replacing the classic show tunes with music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse (who was also responsible for the songs – such as “Patch! Natch!” – in 1985’s Santa Claus, so nobody can claim he wasn’t on a streak, although you could technically have said the same thing about Charles Starkweather).

It’s snowing hard in the little town of Backlot, U.S.A.  Eleven year old Drew Barrymore is reading her mama's cookbook, wearing her apron, and – judging by her jaundiced face and sunken eyes – using her grandfather John Barrymore’s liver.

Drew is a no nonsense little girl who has put away childish things.  She has no use for toys, spending all her time cooking, cleaning, looking after her older sister Mary, and plotting to assassinate their mother and assume her identity.  But while Mom is out, probably buying a gun, a howling blizzard blows over the TV antenna and knocks down the telephone lines, leaving Drew trapped, isolated, and unable to call for help, and raising our hopes that Ghostface from Scream will get to her before she starts singing.  Instead, she dons her jacket and runs out into the freezing cornstarch.

Cut to a toy store, where clerk Keanu Reeves is hitting on Drew’s sister Mary by brandishing a swan-shaped hemorrhoid cushion.  But before he can deploy it as a sex toy, Drew bursts into the store to inform Mary that the power is out, a blizzard is about to hit town, and she should hurry home where it’s safe, dark, and frigid.  Then night manager Richard Mulligan sexually harasses Mary while Drew squats under the checkout stand.  But the two sisters are so full of the Christmas spirit that they immediately forget about the near molestation and pile into Keanu’s jeep so he can drive them around in a blinding snowstorm while everyone sings a song about how to spell Cincinnati.

Keanu swerves suddenly and Drew flies out the back of the vehicle, slides down a hill, and crashes into a pine tree.  She dies instantly, or has a low budget, Made for TV out-of-body experience, because a moment later she’s floating in the clouds, above a pastel colored planned community occupied by bored extras in hoop skirts and minor league ball club mascots.


Drew crash lands in a giant wedding cake while a man in a pig mask and a humanoid frog in a bonnet gaze at her with their pitiless black eyes.  (In Drew's defense, I think we’ve all had that dream.)

Keanu’s Fat Comic Relief Friend™ from the store walks up to Drew wearing tight pants with a double-breasted flap in the groin, and offers her a cookie.  Shortly after this scene was shot, creative differences erupted, and original director Roman Polanski walked off the film.

Comic Relief Friend also tempts Drew with some exposition: It seems Toyland and it’s creepy, Wind in the Willows knock-off inhabitants are ruled by Richard Mulligan, who is “so evil, and so bizarre,” that he’s forcing Mary Contrary to marry him (in this version of the tale Mary is still a teenager, so she’s not Quite Contrary yet, just mildly argumentative).  But Mary is in love with poor but honest Keanu.  Basically, it’s the same plot as The Princess Bride, but with less fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love and miracles, and more of those costumes people wear when they stand on street corners spinning signs for discount electronics stores.

Mary and Keanu can’t elope because Toyland is surrounded by the Forest of the Night, which isn’t as dangerous as the Fire Swamp – no fire spurts, lightning sands, or Rodents of Unusual Size – but the trees constantly sing “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera, so it’s no picnic.

Richard shows up for the non-consensual nuptials sporting a witch’s costume repurposed from the Knott’s Berry Farm Halloween Spooktacular Show, attended by his two henchmen, Max Shreck and Riff Raff.  His third minion, Copyright Infringement Lawyer, was unable to attend.

Sadly, the minister doesn’t say “Mawwige,” but he does read a message from the “Toy Master” about true love.  But when he starts to pronounce them man and wife, Drew fails to hold her peace, and suddenly, the wedding is off!  Comic Relief sings a song about how Drew is “the girl of the week,” while Richard storms into his bowling ball-shaped house, which is filled with sphagnum moss and Sleestaks, and consults with his chief-of-staff, a cycloptic hobo penguin.

It seems Keanu is the rightful manager of the Toyland Cookie Factory, but after his father’s death, his uncle –Richard! –- usurped his position, allowing Keanu to ruin Hamlet years before he got around to stinking up Much Ado About Nothing.

Cut to the Cookie Factor, where Comic Relief is the Official Taster and apparently loves his job, because he bites into a snickerdoodle and has a shivering, violent orgasm that nearly causes his pants flap to pop like a ruptured boiler.

Richard frames his nephew for cookie theft, and  Keanu is carted away in the riot wagon (a Disneyland parking lot tram) and thrown in the Pastel Pink Hole of Calcutta.

Things look grim for our hero (is he our hero?  And if so, is there some sort of appeals process?), except they break him out of jail in the very next scene.  Drew bores the magistrate by talking about Cincinnati, while Mary and Comic Relief unlock the cell door.  Keanu is grateful, kissing Mary and telling CR that he’s fat.  Meanwhile, Drew locks the magistrate in a cell, and since he’s the only one on duty at the jail, we presume that he will slowly waste away until he resembles the Forgotten Prisoner of Castle Mare from those old Aurora model kits.

They go to see the Toymaster, Mr. Miyagi, who is employed as a sub-contractor by Santa to make all the toys for all the children in the world after underbidding the Elves.  But the toys are actually made by Mr. Miyagi’s laborers, who look like Amish Whos, and you get what you pay for, because the Whomish can’t even paint eyes on a doll, instead cranking out a succession of deathly pale, pupil-less playthings that resemble the eponymous characters from Tombs of the Blind Dead.  Merry Christmas!

Mr. Miyagi shows Drew, Mary, and Keanu a cabinet full of life-size, cobwebbed wooden soldiers which he will presumably imbue with unholy life at some point before the last commercial break.  He also tells the kids that he’s been siphoning the world’s supply of evil, distilling it down to its essence, and storing it in an old Chianti bottle, which he hopes no one breaks.  Basically, it’s the ancient Greek creation myth, except Pandora has been replaced by Ernest and Julio Gallo.

Keanu and Mary get themselves captured and imprisoned in Richard’s bowling ball.  Drew and CR go to Mr. Miyagi to complain about it, but are interrupted when Richard and his knock-off minions stage a home invasion.  They perform some Japanese-style jump rope bondage on Drew, then Richard steals the bottle of Evil Rosé, and leaves her to be molested by the Hobo Penguin Cyclops.  It flaps and squawks and humps her, but she manages to slip free somehow and untie the others, and then they blind the thing just as Ulysses and his men did to Polyphemus.  Merry Christmas, kids!

Drew and Comic Relief grab a couple of pink baseball bats and march into the forest to bust some heads.  But they fall down a hole and into what looks like Sid and Marty Krofft’s lower G.I. tract, where they find Keanu and Mary.  Richard is waving his bottle and going on about how he’s going to conquer Toyland with “evil vapors.”  So basically, his plans for world domination could be foiled with a bathroom fan.

“He’s got trolls,” Keanu drones.  “Hundreds of evil trolls!”  We cut to Richard’s army, and…Well, he’s got two members of the Screen Extras Guild in repurposed Sleestak suits.  But Richard uncorks the bottle, and tells them that the green vapor will turn them all into trolls.  Unfortunately, that would require special effects, or at least a costume change, so Drew tells them all to fight it with the power of municipal nomenclature, and they sing about how to spell Cincinnati again, which makes them immune to chemical warfare.

Our heroes run for it, twisting and turning through the dark tunnels, pursued by Richard, although the whole thing feels less like a chase scene and more like a colonoscopy.  But despite their evasive maneuvers, Richard manages to track them by sniffing Drew’s pheromone trail, which reeks of sugar and spice.

They make it to Toyland, as though anyone cares, but Richard is right behind them, snarling, “I’ll kick the giggles out of their heart!”  They hop into some pastel go-carts and stage a car chase that makes Driving Miss Daisy look like Buillit.  It goes on for awhile, with the cast driving in lazy circles while Richard shouts, “The little one – I want her!  I want the little one!” until it seems like NAMBLA went co-ed and celebrated with a trip to the Disneyland Autopia.

Drew, Keanu, and Mary run to Mr. Miyagi for help, but since Drew doesn’t believe in toys, they’re screwed.   He reveals that the only way to defeat Richard and his army of Land of the Lost leftovers is for Drew to “believe in Toyland, and all it stands for.”  Mostly pig masks and pedophilia,

Then Mr. Miyagi lip syncs a song about some pointless crap while trying to touch her with a disturbing clown puppet.  Drew declares, “I want to believe!  I guess life just made me grow up too fast!”  Well, life and booze and drugs and cigarettes, but luckily for Toyland, the ontology of toys is the answer to sex- and narcotic-fueled precociousness!

“I kept my teddy!” Drew suddenly blurts.

“Did you hear that everyone,” Comic Relief grins.  “She kept her teddy!”

“Yes!  I kept my teddy!”

So she’s all set for the lingerie party in the Sleestak Grotto after the film wraps.  Cool.

As expected, Drew’s innocent, child-like faith brings the toy soldiers to a grim, shambling mockery of life, and we anxiously await a Battle Royale of badly fabricated costumes.

Meanwhile, the pork-faced furries who inhabit the town build a barricade to hold off the monsters in a scene that’s highly evocative of Les Misérables, except the ticket prices are more reasonable.  Richard’s troops wander toward the camera, but in a twist that will likely be familiar to any 19th Century Zulu, the mechanical Toy Soldiers show up with rifles and artillery, and suddenly Toyland is less FAO Schwartz and more Kent State.  The soulless automatons open fire indiscriminately, proving that the Three Laws of Robotics don’t protect Sleestaks, then we cut to the wedding of Mary and Keanu.

The children’s choir accompanying the ceremony promise “the happiest marriage that anyone ever knew.”  Of course, back in Cincinnati, the wedding of their real life counterparts will be more of a shotgun affair when Keanu knocks up 17-year old Mary, and she winds up working two jobs after he rolls his Jeep, fractures his pelvis and becomes addicted to Percocet.

But wait!  Who’s that showing up just before the end credits to justify calling this mess a Christmas movie?  Why, it’s Santa Claus, in his magical sleigh pulled by a team of six reindeer cut-outs made from unfinished plywood!  Except Santa is actually Mr. Miyagi, which I imagine will absolutely thrill those friends of Haley Barbour who are torqued off that black guy from The Wire playing a Norse god in Thor.

Drew hops aboard for the trip back to Cincinnati.

“I think we’ll take the Milky Way,” Mr. Miyagi says.  “All the way.”  Get it, Drew?  “Hang on child,” he advises.  “And look out for the shooting star!”

I’m sure he meant all that in the nicest way possible, and the "shooting star" he's warning her about isn't actually a pet name for a body part, but after an hour and 35 minutes of this film, everything sounds dirty.

Back in the real world, we see that Keanu and Mary didn’t take Drew to the Emergency Room after her near-fatal collision with the tree, but just hauled her home and dumped her unconscious ass on the damp, stained sofa.  Because the best treatment for a subarachnoid hemorrhage is mildew.

Drew wakes up and does the whole Wizard of Oz and-you-were-there-and-you-where-there bit, while somewhere overhead, Santa Miyagi’s sleigh and his six motionless, two-dimensional reindeer fly jerkily across the moon as he cries out, “A low budget Christmas to all!  And to all – a cheap night!”

 Happy holidays everyone. 


Carl said...

When I saw that the old site had crashed, I presumed the worst: you had too much to drink.

I'm relieved to see it was only Robin of Bezerkley's minions hacking away.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I take it this is the actual movie, and not something you watched on two tabs of acid?

Anonymous said...

Apparently the forces of evil are taking over Christmas. But be grateful for a simple hack. I went out for a walk with my dog yesterday morning and got home to discover some assholes had broken down my back door and stole my few pieces of jewelry remaining after the last time I was robbed.

Bill S said...

Sorry to hear that, Anon.
I suspect a person on acid would have still seen a BETTER movie than this. With the tv OFF.

heydave said...

Wow. And here I thought the 'Babes' movie with Laurel and Hardy was seriously weird. Or maybe that was last year's chemical adaption in my world. Or maybe that cat is truly fucking odd. Anyway...

Hey kids! So nice to touch base. I was convinced that the real blog was seared by the acid wit of my Robin-retort. I know I was stunned at my own wrathful lucidity.

You know I love you all, but don't be pissed if I open your presents. Happily, you got just what I wanted, too!

Elayne said...

Wow, you really made it come to life, and now I'm very, very afraid. Thanks for another great review.

Anonymous said...

Yet another Keanu Reeves puzzler. "They" must have known by this time already that he was no actor at all, at all.He is apparently objectively Hot (he never made my ovaries jump)but how, how does he keep getting work as an actual actor? I mean, Much Ado is the perfect example. Why is Keanu Reeves? Colour me deeply puzzled.

Scott said...

Thanks, Elayne. Fear is definitely the proper response (I wrote the entire piece in bed, with the blankets over my head).

Suezboo: This movie is puzzlier than most Keanu efforts, since he hadn't yet developed even the wan simulacrum of competence he displays in later films, and recited every single line like a dyslexic waiter reading off the dinner specials.

Jim Donahue said...

Hey, that's Paul Zindel, Pulitzer Prize winner you're poking fun at here, for his play "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds." I'm guessing this job didn't earn him a second Pulitzer. (He also wrote "The Pigman," a young adult novel that's on a lot of English curricula, or used to be, at any rate.)

Jim Donahue said...

Oh, and Clive Donner did the George C. Scott version of "A Christmas Carol"--which is really, really good. I streamed it off Netflix the other day.

Scott said...

Yeah, I thought about reaching for an Effect of Gamma Rays joke at one point, but the connection was just too depressing. I also briefly considered a reference to And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little (if only because Miss Reardon has a foolproof method for surviving this film), before finally opting to pretend he wasn't involved.

Mary also loves that version of A Christmas Carol. But Babes has left me bitter enough to point out that Clive Donner also directed The Nude Bomb.

Bill S said...

Omigosh, I read "The Pigman" in high school! I remember really liking it. Still think it could be a good movie in the right hands.
I liked Keanu in "River's Edge", "Parenthood", "My Own Private Idaho", "Point Break" and "Speed". I will concede he was not suited to Shakespeare, though I haven't seen "Much Ado About Nothing".

Jim Donahue said...

Not to be confused with Paul Zinfandel, wine heir.

Donner also did the very depressing "Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen." (I was going to blame him for "The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu," but I double-checked and it turns out that was Piers Haggard. That was so bad, it made me wish Peter Sellers had died immediately after "Being There.")

preznit said...

Directed by Clive Donner

...she’s floating in the clouds, above a pastel colored planned community...

or, in other words, a present day Donner party?

Cut to the Cookie Factor, where Comic Relief is the Official Taster and apparently loves his job

anything like Simon Cowell in the X Factor?

Because the best treatment for a subarachnoid hemorrhage is mildew.

well, chances are there were some leeches in the damper sections

“And look out for the shooting star!”

"maybe Santa bring you nice pearl necklace too"
was cut since that implied they had a budget greater than teh cast's bar tab

EmmATX said...

Ha! So glad you included this! I had forgotten about this movie, but I used to watch it at my grandma's house - she had it on VHS. Even as a kid, I knew it was a weird, weird clusterfuck of a movie, just as I also knew that Keanu Reeves was extremely attractive yet a terrible actor.

Or, as Scott said: "he hadn't yet developed even the wan simulacrum of competence he displays in later films, and recited every single line like a dyslexic waiter reading off the dinner specials."

This is true.

C-I-N-C-I-N-N-A-T-I Cincinnati!

EmmATX said...

Also, the part where Keanu and Mary are still almost monsters, but are being revived by the power of song, and are singing as if they are zombies with marbles in their mouths, used to crack my shit up.