Childhood’s joy land
Mystic merry toyland
Once you pass its borders
You can ne’er return again”
Does that sound as ominous to everyone else as it does to me?
In the context of the movies (opera, stories), It’s supposed to sound ominous! There is something sinister about trying to approach Toyland if you are an adult (and perhaps trying to stay there too long if you’re a child?). While we encourage children to play, adults are not supposed to play. As can be seen every Christmas where the adults give copies of the toys they remembered fondly from their own childhoods, or “borrow” the kids toys and games, adults still long for the happiness and joy they felt as children when they were allowed, even encouraged to play.
In the 1934 Laurel and Hardy movie, Stan was the “eternal innocent”, protected by his more worldly friend, but seeing life through the simple eyes of a child. This capacity allows him to bridge the gap between adult and childhood, but not usually for his own benefit. He is still considered not to fit in either category.
The story of Babes in Toyland is one of “coming of age”, and yet admiring the virtues of childhood. Whether in the 1961 Disney film with Annette Funicello, or the 1986 version with Drew Barrymore, adults are portrayed as either evil or ineffectual, they cannot help the children (the plot being manipulated as needed to make sure that the kids are on their own!) As with medieval fairy tales, the children, smaller, weaker, with less resources, have to figure out how to save themselves and the world from the machinations of the evil adult(s), who want to destroy the dreams of childhood. Yet they are able to do this using little more than imagination and the enthusiasm of youth. This seems to be a virtue against which evil schemes cannot stand, and as adults cannot handle it, only the children can save the world!
The moral of the story appears to be that Innocence is required for Joy, and that once we have lost our innocence, we may occasionally catch glimpses of it in the distance, but it is the sole property of the young, which they will inevitably lose/outgrow, but until then, we must protect this source, as we protect artists or other sources of rare and precious resources, not for the sake of the people who have them, but because we need the resource. We’re like drug addicts- we need that taste of vicarious joy we get from watching kids play, from believing in Santa, we manipulate that innocence to make it last as long as possible, not for them, but for ourselves.
Or maybe I’m just feeling sour today. If I re-watch the Babes films tomorrow, maybe I’ll see something different in them.