Silly Symphonies

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Broken Toys

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 6, 2015

This might be the best of Disney’s/Silly’s cast-of-thousands, process and manufacture cartoons, or at least the most purposeful and productive. Santa’s Workshop is simply abundant and pretty, and has no particular axe to grind or message to impart. In this it provides a welcome relief to all those threadbare melodramas in which myriad little creatures gang up to defeat some snarling villain. But here is Santa’s Workshop with a story. And instead of Disney’s too often tired conflict we have a sermon, and one with real purpose and propulsion.

A Depression-reflecting toy-soldier is thrown on the garbage heap. He finds a whole community of similarly discarded and broken toys there. They are discouraged unto despair, but the toy soldier rouses them from this junkyard torpor, gets them to help each other, help themselves and, finally, help the helpless. This culminating ministration actually extends beyond the film’s conclusion, which is kind of how Jesus ended the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Go forth and do likewise! Comprehensive, convicted, convincing. Very well done!

Compare the toys’ last journey to that of Oliver’s mother at the beginning of David Lean’s 1948 version of Oliver Twist. The same payoff shot! The same, except that this one also features a W.C. Fields doll saying “Come, my Ethiopian” to a likeness of Stepin Fetchit. Stereotypes? Definitely. (Broken Toys also resides in Disney’s “in the vault” corner of the dvd release.) I won’t defend Stepin Fetchit, or rather the implications of his character. (I won’t, but I will leave Jonathan Rosenbaum to do it. Isn’t that interesting? Things are complicated! ) But look at Ned Sparks over there, and Zasu Pitts alongside. They’re just as exaggerated, and film-industry specific, and instructive. We should be aware, and wary. We should even be offendable, since the opposite may just mean that we don’t hold anything sacred anymore. But more, mostly, we might allow ourselves to be instructed. In an historical or sociological sense, Broken Toys does that. Morally speaking, it does it even better.