Should I Watch..? Bedknobs And Broomsticks
What's the big deal?
Bedknobs And Broomsticks is a family musical fantasy film released in 1971 and is based on two books by the children's author Mary Norton. The film stars Angela Lansbury as an apprentice witch working on a top secret spell for the war effort who finds herself working alongside three evacuated children and con artist David Tomlinson to locate a missing spell. The film is frequently compared to another Disney film Mary Poppins as both films feature similar casts and crew, director and songwriters as well as some scenes set in London, a female lead character, live-action combined with animation and suspect Cockney accents. Despite receiving a number of Oscar nominations (even winning one of them), the film received a lukewarm reception from critics and was a failure at the box office.
What's it about?
Three children are evacuated from London after the Blitz to the sleepy coastal village of Pepperinge Eye where they are placed in the somewhat reluctant care of local recluse Eglantine Price. After discovering that Miss Price is actually training to be a witch, the three children - Charlie, Carrie and Paul Rawlins - agree to help Miss Price who is learning witchcraft via a correspondence course in an attempt to help the war effort. Sadly, her course is cancelled because of the war, forcing all of them to travel to London and locate the tutor, Professor Emelius Browne.
Browne, however, turns out to be a con artist who made up the course after finding a mysterious book and is astonished to find that the nonsense words he discovered actually work. But the final spell in the book, the one Miss Price needs the most, is missing and it turns out that dark forces are also interested in the spell. With a Nazi invasion at Pepperinge Eye on the horizon, the race is on to find the missing spell and prevent disaster...
Miss Eglantine Price
Mr Emelius Browne
Mr Rowan Jelk, clergyman
Bill Walsh & Don DaGradi *
Release Date (UK)
8th October, 1971
Animation, Adventure, Family, Fantasy, Musical
Best Visual Effects
Academy Award Nominations
Best Set Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Original Song, Best Original Score
What's to like?
There's little point denying that the film is anything but an attempt at regenerating the magic of Mary Poppins but at times, there is something about the film that goes some way to achieve this. When the film reaches the mysterious island of Naboombu, the human cast indulge in arguably the best bits of the film such as the anarchic football match and the film's stand-out song, The Beautiful Briny. Even without the typically classic animation, the film is chock-full of imaginative sequences that exemplify Disney's skill at film-making. I loved the dancing shoes and the suits of armour bursting into life, showing genuine flashes of brilliance.
Lansbury and Tomlinson are a safe pair of hands to lead the film, both being bona fide Disney legends. Tomlinson may be a bit too similar to his role in Mary Poppins but Lansbury displays enough eccentricity to convince as a trainee witch. Between them, they lead us on a merry adventure with great chemistry and songs and provide viewers both young and old with a surprisingly enjoyable experience. Taken as a single entity (and assuming you haven't seen Mary Poppins), the film is a great example of Disney doing what Disney do best.
- This was the last Disney film to receive an Academy Award until The Little Mermaid in 1989. Coincidentally, it was also the last film that the Sherman Brothers wrote songs for although they did return in 2000 for The Tigger Movie.
- Like many Disney films, there is a Mickey Mouse symbol hidden within the film. Keep your eyes peeled at the start of the football game where a bear is on the right side of the screen wearing a T-shirt bearing the famous logo.
- Julie Andrews was considered for the part of Miss Price along with Leslie Caron, Lynn Redgrave and Judy Carne. Andrews was even offered the part but turned it down though she later regretted the decision, feeling that she owed her career to the company.
What's not to like?
Mary Poppins is still a highly regarded film and is quite some benchmark to aim for. As a result, the film does inevitably suffer in comparison. Parts of Bedknobs And Broomsticks feel awfully drab and dull, especially the film's finale. Aside from the animated scenes, there is little light or excitement to be found in the film despite the performances of the leads. What colour is in the film comes mostly from extremely psychedelic effects. The three children prove thoroughly annoying and especially Weighill who brings a Cockney accent of such awfulness that Dick Van Dyke would have been proud.
The problem is because the animated scenes are so colourful and entertaining, the rest of the film feels very ordinary. Even with the magical suits of armour fending off Nazi soldiers (who spend most of the film forgotten about), it just doesn't feel that magical. The pacing feels slightly uneven (as it does in Mary Poppins) and it can't escape the feeling that it's a bit cynical, that it's trying too hard to emulate Disney's earlier smash. Of course, if you're in the unusual position of having not seen Mary Poppins, there won't be too much wrong with this film. But it simply feels too derivative to stand out from the crowd.
Should I watch it?
Bedknobs And Broomsticks isn't the epic adventure Disney might have hoped for but it's a decent enough caper for the whole family to enjoy. There are moments of real fun and escapism to be found but by and large, the movie is a somewhat disappointing outing. Technically, the film is sound with imaginative sequences and plenty of decent songs for the kids to learn. But compared to the innocence and sheer joy of Mary Poppins, the film feels like a cynical attempt at simply recreating a formula.
Great For: families, nostalgic parents
Not So Great For: people who have already seen Mary Poppins, younger children
What else should I watch?
By now, it should be apparent that Mary Poppins is the superior film. It's far lighter in tone, funnier and loaded with songs that have since become iconic. Julie Andrews became immortalised as the magical nanny who takes two children on a colourful journey through imagination along with Dick Van Dyke's eternally optimistic Bert. Much like Poppins herself, the film is practically perfect in every way - so much so that it's surprising that the masters of animation didn't try more often to copy the formula. Other live-action/animation crossovers include 1977's Pete's Dragon and the more recent and more warmly received Enchanted.
Disney has had much more success with its feature-length animation movies over the years with recent efforts becoming some of the most successful ever. You don't need me to tell you about the likes of Frozen or Zootopia but also consider the likes of Wreck-It-Ralph, Tangled and Big Hero 6 - all of which are well worth tracking down, even if the use of traditional animation seems to have become something of a dying art at Disney.
© 2017 Benjamin Cox