In the field of modern Christmas classics like Home Alone, Elf, Love Actually, and Christmas Vacation, one movie stands out in my mind as the best worst Christmas movie: the 1986 classic remake of Babes in Toyland, starring a young Drew Barrymore and Keanu Reeves. I remember wearing out my neighbor Kimberly’s VHS as we watched this movie year-round; in retrospect, I’m not even sure how this tape came to be in our possession, since it came out the year before we were born. But we freaking loved it. So imagine my gleeful squeals when I found out it was available on Netflix! You’ve never seen this gem? Let me give you a brief synopsis.
Lisa, played by Drew Barrymore, is a young girl with an old soul who, for some reason, is obsessed with caring for her mother and siblings, never allowing herself to enjoy the simple pleasures of childhood. As a blizzard sweeps the city of Cincinnati, Lisa takes charge, running to tell her sister, Mary, who works at a local toy store. As Lisa and Mary are driven home by Mary’s boyfriend, Jack, the group is distracted by their sudden need to theatrically perform a song about their beloved hometown of Cincinnati, and Jack’s Jeep hits a slippery patch of ice. Lisa flies out of a poorly secured plastic window, crashes into a tree, and sustains a (seemingly fairly severe) head injury.
As Lisa loses consciousness, she is “transported” to Toyland, which is inhabited by people in well-used animal suits (surely purchased on clearance) and where her real-life friends take on nursery rhyme personas.
Mary is now Mary Contrary, a young woman in love with Jack-Be-Nimble, but betrothed to the evil Barnaby Barnacle, a bad, bad guy who lives in a bowling ball.
Mary is being forced to marry Barnaby because her mother, the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, is so poor that she sold her to pay her mortgage. So Lisa crashes their wedding and calls it off, but Barnaby isn’t phased. He reveals that he plans to take over Toyland by gaining control of Toyland’s chief export: cookies. If Jack is not married within a week, he will lose his inheritance of his father’s Cookie Factory.
So Lisa, Jack, and Mary team up with Georgie Porgie, a twenty-something year-old man dressed in a much-too-small sailor suit and who suffers from a most unfortunate camel toe for most of the movie.
They seek the help of the Toymaster, played by Mr. Miyagi, who is something of a spiritual leader to the people of Toyland, but remains effectively useless in the kids’ efforts to thwart Barnaby due to his short attention span and affinity for playing with all of the toys he and his Who-like elves create.
So anyway, somehow the kids find themselves locked in the dungeon of Barnaby’s bowling ball. Barnaby threatens to turn them all into tree-like trolls, which he apparently collects.
He releases some sort of poisonous tree-troll gas on them, and everyone, except for Lisa, is driven to a growling, spitting, state of tree-troll insanity. Lisa quickly deduces that it must be the fact that she is from Cincinnati that protected her from the gas, because everyone knows Cincinnati-ites are immune to most of the world’s diseases.
She leads her friends in a rousing reprise of “Cincinnati” and they are all cured! They escape from the dungeon and retreat to the Toymaster’s toy shop!
Barnaby and his two hunch-backed henchmen and evil bird thing (I didn’t tell you about them? Not important), follow the kids of the toy shop and an epic battle ensues!
The climax of the movie involves a car chase in pink and purple bumper cars and the discount bears and bunnies beating the evil tree-trolls with brooms, whilst everyone throws plastic vegetables at one another.
In the end, good triumphs over evil and Drew Barrymore flies away on a sleigh with Mr. Miyagi dressed as Santa.
She awakes on her couch where her family is not at all concerned with her concussion, and vows to always enjoy being a child.
A holiday classic.