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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Disneyear: Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

Director Robert Stevenson really hit his stride when he directed Mary PoppinsSince that movie was quite a success from making over $100 million overall at the box office to winning five Academy Awards, this guy had quite a reputation to live up to for his next film. Seven years later came Bedknobs and Broomsticks, a less successful film than Mary Poppins that is often called a carbon copy of the later. There's similar magical themes in the movie as well as mixing live action with animation, songs by the Sherman Brothers, a similar cast choice: namely David Tomlinson, supporting actor Reginald Owen (in his last film role), a similar film crew, art director Peter Ellenshaw, and music director Irwin Kostal. Sounds like this movie already has a problem: it doesn't stand out that much from it's sister film. Okay, aside from that, let's see if Bedknobs and Broomsticks can make a name for itself.

Set during the 1940's London Blitz, miss Eglantine Price (played by Angela Lansbury) unwillingly adopts three siblings due to the laws back then. At first, they don't see eye to eye until the kids catch Miss Price riding on a broom like a witch one night. They find out she's really an apprentice witch (you know, a witch in training) to use her magic for the war effort and in exchange for their silence, Miss Price casts a spell on a bedknob that Paul removed from a brass bed in their room. When re-attached to the bed, it will travel anywhere that Paul asks. The next day, Miss Price receives a letter from the headteacher of her correspondence school informing her he is closing the college due to the war and cannot provide her with a crucial spell she has been waiting for to help her cause. As a result, she asks Paul if she can use the bed to go to London to track him down. They do find her professor, only to find that he was really a con artist and he's surprised that the magic words he thought were nonsense work for Price. She asks for a book that has a spell in it that makes inanimate objects to life because it could help with the defense of Britannia. After a trip to Portebello Road, they find it only to see it's on a medallion. So they travel to the island of Naboombu, where it's at, to get it. After a soccer match, Browne manages to trick it off the island's king and they head back to the cottage. They get it to work only to have the kids find a new home. That night the German army attacks Britain. Using the Substitutiary Locomotion spell, Ms. Price defeats the army but ends up destroying her workshop, ending her days as a witch. In the end, the kids come back to live with Miss Price and Mr. Browne joins the Home Guard, satisfied with their contributions to the war effort.

Let's start with the good things. First off is Angela Lansbury as Miss Price. She's really nice in the role, has some good scenes, and is overall kind of likable, David Tomlinson was fun, the kids were okay though their accents got to me at times. The special effects are pretty good for the time it was made, garnering an Academy Award. The darker war elements of the movie actually do give it sort of an edge. I actually think this is one of the few kids films where I heard a German army actually speak German for all their scenes. Give them credit for that at least. The animated scenes were really my favorite part. Especially this soccer game with a bunch on animals. It has a lot of good physical humor and the live action/animation mixing is really good here. Fun fact here, the king and secretary bird are voiced by Lennie Weinrib, who you may also know as Inch-High Private Eye.

Now for the not-so-great stuff: the biggest problem is that it's too similar to Mary Poppins. The magic and charm is there, but it doesn't stand as strong. On top of that, the story is pretty uneven in that a lot of scenes drag on for too long, like the dance scene in the Portebello Road and the final battle. Also, the war-time theme and occasional sexist remarks from Tomlinson make this film feel dated. The songs? I can't remember too many of them except for the first, The Age of Not Believing. It's almost like a lullaby. A sort of melancholy one. Though to be fair, it's about being an adult too fast.

If you forget the similarities of Mary Poppins, I think this film is actually decent enough for at least one viewing. I'm sure the magic stuff and the animals will keep your kids entertained and the adults can get into the darker war themes, decent special effects, and the two main characters. I certainly did. It's a shame this movie came out when it did. Imagine if it came out seven years after the end of WWII instead of seven years after Mary Poppins. Maybe then it could get more recognition as well as make it a little bit fresher. If you want my opinion as far as recommendations, Mary Poppins is obviously the better movie, but this is still an okay film on its own and does come close at parts. Not a bad film, but not the greatest either. Take it for what it's worth. What you see is what you get.


Christopher Sobieniak said...

Still it was something I liked as a kid if nothing else to see such weird, bizarre things and Nazis in my movies!

Justin Smith said...

I'll admit, this was a nice little movie. I don't regret watching it for this review. :)

top cat james said...

You didn't mention in your review, but did you screen the original version or the extended cut with the restored sequences and songs that were edited out prior to its release. Never have seen the latter, but would like to know if it makes a difference to the overall film.

Also, forgot to bring it up before, but using the original release one-sheets to preface each review is a nice touch, and much appreciated.

Justin Smith said...

Welcome back top cat.

I had the original version to watch. I never saw the uncut version, but I'd like to. I don't even know if it's available on DVD.

top cat james said...

It does-

Justin Smith said...

Oh wow. I'll give it a watch and update this review with details. ;)