Directed by: Robert Stevenson
Written by: Bill Walsh/Don DaGradi
Based on novels by: Mary Norton
Back in the early 60s, Walt and his story finders found Mary Norton’s The Magic Bedknock and Bonfires And Broomsticks. They began work on the project while trying to get another movie about a magical nanny off the ground. The Sherman Brothers (they of The Sword In The Stone) had written some songs for the movie and presented them to Walt.
Walt fell asleep in the middle of one of the songs.
That’s about when they found out that they had the rights to Mary Poppins and decided to shelve Bedknobs & Broomsticks.
Fast forward a few years (and one death of a studio head) and B&B is brought down off the shelf again. Julie Andrews is approached and, at first, she turns it down. Angela Lansbury gets the part. Julie thinks better of it, but is told that she’s too late.
Honestly, that’s probably for the best. I’m not even sure if Julie Andrews could have made this movie amazing. BUT, there is some of the old Mary Poppins magic in the form of…well…David Tomlinson, who played the rather jerky father in the earlier film.
Tomlinson is a good actor and a fun persona, but he’s not magical. So putting him in what is basically the Bert role is kind of a disservice to him, the movie, AND Dick Van Dyke.
Oh, and there are now THREE kids. And they’re all kinda shitty. Not the actors, but the characters. They’re terrible little kids. They break things, steal things, tell people off…they’re everything that the first nanny said that the kids in Mary Poppins were, but they never actually displayed.
Eglantine Price (Lansbury) is a practicing witch in 1940 England. By “practicing,” I mean that she’s still learning. She has a bit of a memory problem (although, remembering all of those words isn’t exactly easy) and she keeps turning people into rabbits instead of what she’s actually trying for. But she has a black cat and a broomstick, so she’s good.
Charlie, Carrie, and Paul are evacuated from London. According to British law, the kids need to be relocated. Eglantine is the lucky recipient of three slightly rough around the edges kids that she has no time for. They find out she’s a witch, con her into showing them some magic, and she creates a magical bedknob that allows them to travel wherever they need to go. The first place she wants to go is to find Professor Emelius Browne (Tomlinson). Brown is a conman/magician who convinced people (like Eglantine) that he was a wizard who can teach them through the mail. But the book that he was “teaching” from is incomplete. So they now have to go find the rest of the book.
Their adventures lead them to Portobello Road (one of the better songs in the movie) and the Isle Of Naboombu (the animated sequence that’s actually pretty impressive and a lot of fun) and then back to their house…where Nazis invade.
At nearly two hours, Bedknobs & Broomsticks is about half an hour too long. There’s about an hour of exposition and character “development” and then about half an hour of good stuff stretched out with another half hour of just…stuff. The scenes on Naboombu was great! The animated characters are fun and the live-action characters interact really well with them. But there’s definitely a bit of heart missing from the whole thing.
The best sequence is when the Nazis attack. The battle between the Nazis and the disembodied, animated suits of armor is absolutely the most fun of the whole thing. It just about makes it worth sitting through the rest of the film.
Honestly, it’s not THAT bad of a movie. It’s just not that great, either. I love Angela Lansbury and she’s always a lot of fun to watch. Tomlinson is fun. But the kids just aren’t super engaging and neither is the story.
And to think. This movie was initially about half an hour longer. It was re-released in 1996 with most of that footage restored. Then they released it on DVD that way. The blu-ray, though, is the release that everyone knows. The half-hour of extra footage is a special feature, which is really the way to do it.