“Colonel, how would you feel about being turned into a nice white rabbit?”
Deneb’s rating: Three out of four gibbering secretary birds.
Deneb’s review: Sometimes, I really would do better to listen to my instincts.
I’ll expand on that in a bit, but first, a little background information. Throughout its history, Disney has several times taken it upon itself to piggyback off its earlier successes – for example, Robin Hood would probably have been quite different if The Jungle Book hadn’t done so well a few years earlier. Similarly, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is very much a movie in the shadow of an earlier, much better-known film, Mary Poppins – although, speaking in production terms, it actually predates it.
You see, Walt Disney spent a long, long time wooing Mary Travers for the rights to her Mary Poppins books, and there was a time there when he feared he was not going to get them at all. So, just in case, he decided to get a similar project off the ground – if he couldn’t make Mary Poppins, then he was by gum going to make the nearest possible thing. Hence, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, which is also based on British children’s books (Mary Norton’s The Magic Bedknob and its sequel), also featuring David Tomlinson in a prominent role, and also featuring a lengthy segment where the live-action actors interact with cartoon characters.
Of course, Mary Poppins did get made, and as a result, B&B has ever since been somewhat in its shadow, regarded as a sort of second-rate version of its predecessor – something which I don’t really think is fair, as… But soft! The review is getting impatient to be on its way! Take note of what I’ve said so far – there’ll be a quiz.
‘Tis the year 1940, and Britain is under siege from them dirty, stinkin’ Nazzies. As such, the good Englishfolk are doing what they can to help insure that their green and pleasant land is not overrun by the Hunny-Hun-Hun (who presumably is going to blow their house down; I don’t know where all this Three Little Pigs stuff is coming from all of a sudden. Maybe because it’s Disney).
Anyway. Due to the fact that London is not a safe place to live at the moment, what with the bombs and all, children are being evacuated from the big city to live in the countryside, where it’s safe – or safer, anyway. To that end, three young orphan siblings – Charlie (Ian Weighill), Carrie (Cindy O’Callaghan) and Paul (Roy Snart) – have been shipped out to the picturesque little village of Pepperinge Eye. There the authorities bunk them down with one Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury), a local spinster who lives alone in a cottage outside town.
At first, the three reckon they’re in for a rough time of things – they miss London, and Miss Price is not too wild about her solitary existence being taken over by a group of children. Soon, though, they discover just why she’s so determined to maintain her privacy – Miss Price is a witch!
Well, a witch-in-training, anyway. You see, she’s been taking a correspondence course in witchcraft – she’s a patriotic sort, and figures that genuine magic on the side of the Allies could only help the war effort. She’s not too good at it yet, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and she figures that with a little time and a few more really good spells under her belt, she’ll be able to help repel the invaders.
Except there’s been a bit of a hitch. Namely, she’s just received a letter from Professor Emelius Browne (David Tomlinson), the man behind the course she’s been taking, telling her that his college of witchcraft has had to close down due to the war; hence, no more lessons in the mail.
Now, some people might shrug and say ‘oh well’ at this – I mean, she’s already learned a whole bunch of spells; you might think that would be enough – but Eglantine Price is made of sterner stuff. There was a really hot-stuff spell supposed to be coming her way, that of ‘substitutiary locomotion’, or, in other words, bringing life and movement to things that have none – books, gloves, keyrings, that sort of thing. She figures this would be a real good Nazi-whuppin’ spell, and she’s determined to get her hands on it one way or another. And hey, she’s just bribed the kids to keep mum about her witchcraft by giving them a magic bedknob that can (when attached to its bed) take you anywhere you want it to – why not take a quick trip to London and see if they can dig this Professor Browne up?
No sooner said than done, and thanks to the bed’s magic, they find him pretty quickly – although he’s not much like what they were expecting. In fact, he’s not a professor at all; he’s a conman who spends the bulk of his time as a second-rate street magician and flimflam artist. Indeed, he’s genuinely flabbergasted at the fact that someone has actually managed to make his spells work – he’d gotten them out of an old book he’d picked up, and figured it was a good way to pick up a little cash.
Still, he’s willing enough to help out, except he doesn’t have the missing spell either – his copy of the book is incomplete; it’s torn right at the point where the spell would have been explained (which is, of course, the real reason he closed down the college – he’d run out of material). If they want the key to making old jam-jars dance the polka, they’re going to have to fill in the blanks.
So off they go, in a quest that will take them from the street-markets and criminal haunts of London to the enchanted shores and waters of the Isle of Naboombu – no humans allowed! With all that looking, they’re bound to come up with something – the question is, will it be of any use when those elusive Nazis finally do show up?
All right, before we get into my actual feelings for this film as a whole, there is one particular gripe I have to get out of the way. This is connected both with the opening sentence and the whole B&B-is-Mary-Poppins-filler bit.
Here’s the thing – Mary Poppins was, as you may be aware, kind of a big deal. It won all kinds of awards and stuff, not to mention becoming a beloved family classic virtually the moment it hit the screen.
Now, no studio worth their salt is immune to the siren smell of success, and in this case, it was enough to make the Mouse House all giddy. They figured if Mary Poppins did boffo box office, surely B&B, which contained most of the same basic elements, would achieve the same, or at least similar, results. So they pulled out all the stops and did their darnedest to make it a full-on whoopty-doo pour on the money visual spectacular, just like Mary – and, more to the point, with an equally bloated running time. Surely this could only achieve brilliant success!
And did it? Well, it did all right, but it was nowhere near the super-ultra-mega-boppo-socko-turned-into-a-Broadway-musical-a-few-decades-later hit that a certain Julie Andrews movie was. In any case, due to circumstances not worth going into here, they were required to trim it down to a more normal length, which involved excising a good half-hour or so of footage – and that was the form in which most people, including me, knew it, up until a few years ago when they decided to release a ‘restored edition’ DVD with the full length feature on it. Then when the next rerelease rolled around, they did it again. Being Disney, it doesn’t look like they show any signs of stopping.
Now, there’s a certain basic conservatism in nostalgia. You don’t want things you liked in the past to be changed; you want them just as they used to be, so you can wallow happily in thick, goopy memories. Therefore, when I heard about B&B being restored to its full length, a little warning bell went off in my head somewhere. ‘Look here, fella’, this bell said to me, ‘this cannot be good. Hold out for an older copy before you dip into it again.’
And I was gonna do that – heck, I still don’t own the thing; I may yet do it. But having penciled in a review of the movie on my monthly schedule, I needed a copy, I needed one now, and the only one easily available was the extended cut. So I surrendered to expediency, and here we are now.
That bell was right.
Look, I am not someone who generally has a problem with this sort of thing – in principle, anyway. I believe, as I think most do, that people have the right to watch a movie, or read a book, or whatever, in the fullest, least meddled-with version possible. That being said, I am also a writer, and as such, I understand a little thing called ‘editing’. It may be a bit of a pain at times, but it’s a basic necessity nonetheless, and seeing the unedited version of something you like is not always the thrill you might think it is – sure, sometimes it’s a case of ‘Holy crap, this changes everything; oh wow, this version is so much better’, but more often than not it’s just the stuff you liked already, but with fluff.
Let’s not judge a book by its cover, though – what did we get out of these legendary cut scenes salvaged from the Disney vaults? Well, it’s been long enough since I saw the standard cut that I can’t be sure of everything, but… let’s see… You’ve got Roddy McDowall’s village priest character revealed as an unctuous prick who covets Miss Price’s house, a subplot which never goes anywhere… You find out that the old lady in the village is the patriotic sort and a bit of a busybody, which, oh yes, also never goes anywhere… You get some backstory on Charlie, Carrie and Paul which is never really followed up on; you’ve got extended versions of scenes/songs which completely wreck the timing/mood established up ‘til then; you’ve got new (well, old, but you know what I mean) songs that do exactly the same thing; you’ve got the already-pushing-it-a-bit ‘Portobello Road’ sequence extended into one that seems to last for roughly five hours, during which the plot slams on the breaks and sits idling… Hmm… What do we call all that, class? Oh yes, fluff! Or, if you want to use a more technical term, filler.
Basically, the entire half-hour that got cut out is stuff that should have been cut out in the first place, and doing so was a wise decision at the time. It’s not all bad, mind you; Cindy O’Callaghan gets a nice bit of acting in the aforementioned backstory, and there’s a rather poignant song from Miss Price about how lonely her life actually was before all this started – it’s OK. But you know what else is OK? A whole bunch of stuff that you find on DVD extras, under the label ‘Deleted Scenes’ – and which belong right where they are, thank you very much. Even a good scene can slow things down to a crawl if put in the wrong place or extended to the wrong length – and in the extended cut, things are crawling. (Not to mention the truly atrocious dubbing in certain scenes where the original audio was missing. For crying out loud, you’re Disney – there is no excuse for this kind of thing!)
Now, it would be one thing if this were some sort of ‘Director’s Cut’ deal where it was an exception to the rule, or if the shorter version was an extra on the disk, but no – this, for the foreseeable future, is the version of Bedknobs that the general public is going to get, and I personally find that a crying shame. The edited-down version was the one I watched over and over again back in the day, and you know what? I never got the slightest feeling that something was missing, or that things were moving too slowly. There’s a lot of people who are going to get their enjoyment of this film sacrificed on the altar of completeness as the old cut passes into unavailability, something that it is not deserving of. It’s a good film that can stand on its own merits, but it’s a little difficult to notice such things when you’re being bombarded by filler.
OK, so, bottom line – does this mean it’s ruined? No, it doesn’t. Because in any format there is a genuinely good film lurking at the heart of Badknobs and Broomsticks, and a little extraneous filler is not going to change all that, just muddy the waters a bit.
I’m not going to play the compare-and-contrast game with Mary Poppins, I swear, but I will say this – B&B is in my opinion a film with equal merits, and is in some ways better. It has a much broader scope to it, the stakes are higher, the humor is overall better, and it’s just generally a more daring and adventurous film in most respects. I am not, mind you, knocking Mary Poppins in the slightest; it deserves its good reputation, but if it were to meet B&B while strolling down the street, the two would be perfectly qualified to tip their hats to each other and shake hands as equals. (Oy, the anthropomorphization…) It is not the earlier film’s grubby-nosed inferior, as some seem to think; it is a legitimate classic in its own right and should be acknowledged as such.
For starters, what are the first things most people look for in a good Disney film? The animation (well, if it has any) and the songs (again, if they’re there). Bedknobs has both, and they’re both good.
The latter aren’t anything particularly revelatory so far as Disney songs go, mind you – they’re pretty typical of the period – but they’re well-written nonetheless, and a few are genuinely catchy and memorable. (‘Bobbing Along’ is a personal favorite.) The cartoon ‘Isle of Naboombu’ segment (particularly the lagoon bit) is a beautifully-done bit of animation, and features live-action-integration that has progressed quite a ways from Mary Poppins (OK, last Poppins reference, I promise). Really, it’s almost up-to-par with how it was used in Roger Rabbit, which, considering that the latter was almost twenty years in the future at the time and was aided by (comparatively) advanced technology, is high praise indeed. (Also, the soccer match sequence is one of the best bits of extended animated slapstick I’ve ever seen – clearly, the animators were having a whole lot of fun.)
Moving on to another surface element, we have the special effects. Now, clearly any movie about a witch doing magic is going to have to have some special effects worth its salt if it wants to be taken seriously, and given that the film won an Academy Award in just that category, I feel it safe to say that yes, it does. They’re not perfect, mind you; by modern standards they’re not quite up to par, but let’s face it, we’re a bunch of raging perfectionists these days when it comes to our cinematic illusions. Really, I can see a modern movie using exactly the same techniques, only we’d have the luxury of digitally removing the occasional visible wire, something that wasn’t an option back then. By those benchmarks, I’d say that the effects work brilliantly; certainly the bits where the bed is traveling are gloriously gaudy bits of Technicolor delirium, and the entire ending sequence is damn near spine-chilling – without doubt, one of the best climaxes in a Disney movie, period.
So all right, that’s all fine, but the meat of any movie is in the story and characters – how do they fare? Most excellent well. The story is perhaps a little loose compared to some, but the same could be said about many live-action Disney films of the time; they were just plain better at plotting out animated features. At any rate, it’s certainly one of the better ones. As for the characters, well, let’s talk about them, shall we?
The main protagonist, of course, is Miss Price. I probably don’t need to tell you that Angela Lansbury does an excellent job in the role – has she ever done anything else? – but it’s a good one regardless of the actress. While I think the character may have been written with a somewhat younger woman in mind (perhaps they were hoping to lure back Julie Andrews?), this actually adds an interesting layer to the role as it was ultimately cast. To my mind, it contributes to the ‘everyone’s expected to do their part’ atmosphere lent to the film by its wartime setting – ‘everyone’ does not exclude people in their middle years and later, after all. Just as the elderly ‘Old Home Guard’ march through the village vowing to repel the invaders if they menace their fair town, so too does Eglantine Price decide to learn magic through the mail despite (presumably) not knowing a thing about it beforehand. Just because she’s of an age and gender not generally associated with martial activities does not mean she’s going to just sit around while others give their all – she is bound and determined to contribute however she can in whatever manner she can, and if that includes magic, then she by golly is going to learn magic and do her best at it. At the same time, the fact that she is a woman of middle years adds credence to the notion that she’s a bit set in her ways and needs to lighten up a bit and enjoy life, something that starts to happen as she hangs out around more rambunctious characters.
The foremost among these (not counting the children, for whom it comes naturally) is Emelius Browne, played with a great deal of verve by David Tomlinson. Where Miss Price is all responsibility, Browne is all irresponsibility; he’s basically spent his entire life living by his wits and showmanship and an instinct for making a fast buck (or pound) however he can. The important thing to note, however, is that he is not a bad man; he’s a decent fellow who simply happens to possess a weak will and a talent for flimflam. As the film goes along, his better qualities begin to be revealed, and while he never exactly becomes a hero, per se, he does ultimately become someone who is prepared to do what it takes to help others, even after a lifetime largely concerned only with himself. Whether this comes from an association with Miss Price or simply an inner strength that he’d never thought to use before, it does make him an interesting and relatable character, and definitely a favorite of mine.
Which brings us to Charlie, Carrie and Paul. Disney has not always had the best track record when it comes to child actors, but they cast some pretty good ones this time. The three have a definite and believable sibling relationship – Charlie is the eldest, a fast-talking smart-alec and a bit of a cynic; Carrie is the middle child, a tad more reasonable and polite, but still mischievous enough when she gets the chance, while Paul is the youngest, with everything that implies. (I especially like how his character was written; he’s very believable as a young child who hasn’t quite figured out the rules of life and therefore takes the unusual in stride – I love his casual ‘Oh’ when it’s explained to him what a witch is – yet at the same time is smarter than most people give him credit for, and a bit exasperated that they won’t listen to him just ‘cause he’s a little kid.) They don’t have as much to do at times as I would have liked, but they’re clearly having fun, and that adds to the enjoyment of it all.
(Also, I’m not sure whether the kids cast were actual cockneys in real life, or just knew how to portray them, but either way they sound convincing enough to my ears, and in a cinematic era that was not exactly known for that sort of thing, that’s an accomplishment. Good on ya, casting department!)
There’s not really much of a villain to the film other than the Nazis, who are, well, your average Hollywood Nazis. Sam Jaffe does have a nice appearance as the sinister Bookman, who is on the same trail as our heroes, but he’s really not around for long enough to pose much of a threat. It doesn’t matter; the ‘real’ villain is more the threat of war than anything else. Blunting said threat is the name of the game, and as such, it doesn’t really need a figurehead.
So, flaws? Yes, there are flaws. The whole ‘extended edition being way too filler-stuffed’ thing aside, the film is perhaps a tad too whimsical for its own good at times, and could have stood a little tightening up. Also, there’s an attitude that it takes towards the military that is perhaps a tad on the jingoistic side of things, considering that the film was made during the Vietnam War; I can’t imagine audiences of the time reacted too positively to that. And… well, that’s it, really; everything else is pretty much just the problems that people who don’t like Disney films have with Disney films. And since I do like Disney films, there’s not much point in me bringing them up. Pretty minor, overall.
As you may have gathered, I definitely recommend this one. I loved it when I was a wee little me-let, and despite the issues I had with the longer version, I still find myself eager to see it again. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to try and get ahold of an earlier edition if possible, as I honestly do think that the extra material is irrelevant and detracts from the film’s overall enjoyability – at any rate, it’d give you a chance to compare and contrast and make up your own mind. Either way, though, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is an underrated classic, and if you happen to be someone who enjoys middle-period Disney, by all means give it a watch.
(And next time my instincts tell me to do something, I’m going to listen, thank you very much.)
Andie’s rating: I wish I could make my bed fly around like that.
Andie’s review: Here we go again, another children’s movie. I think this world would be a much better place if everyone watched more children’s movies and less beat-em-up-blow-it-up crapola. But maybe that’s just me.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a fanciful Disney movie that came out in 1971. A lot of people compared it to Mary Poppins because it involves children and their fun, kooky guardian who meet up with a fun guy and have crazy adventures. However, in my opinion Bedknobs is SO much better than Mary Poppins because I can watch Bedknobs without fear of contracting diabetes from the saccarine sweetness.
The movie is set in 1940, right at the height of WWII. Three children, Charlie, Carrie and Paul, are sent to live in the English countryside with Eglantine Price (played wonderfully by a young Angela Lansbury) because their parents have been killed in the war. They discover that she has been taking a correspondance class on witchcraft and can cast spells and such. But a letter arrives informing Miss Price that the final spell in the course won’t be sent because the school is shutting down.
So Miss Price and the children hop on the magic flying bed and take off to London to find out what happened to the class. They meet up with Professor Emelius Browne, who has been teaching this course, and try to find the ancient book that contains the last spell. Miss Price wants the last spell because it involves substitutiary locomotion, which she wants to use to help end the war. They all take off together to the Island of Naboombu to track down the Star of Asteroth, which contains the words of the spell. They eventually get the spell, just in time to head off a Nazi invasion of England by using inanimate armor and weapons to defeat the invaders.
This movie is so delightful to watch. It has an interesting enough plot to keep people entertained. I mean, who doesn’t think witches are cool? I have always thought it would be so neat to have magical powers. And the three children are played marvelously, they’re cute without being too sweet and innocent and have just the right amount of cynicism. This movie is also filled with fun musical numbers. My personal favorite is when the five travelers visit Portabello Road in London, which is a real place that street vendors frequent. They meet all sorts of interesting people selling all kinds of things and there are some great dance sequences. There’s Scottish Riverdance type stuff, a bunch of Sailors, some Latin salsa dancing. It’s so much fun to watch.
To go along with fun music are some pretty cool special effects. When the travelers visit the Island of Naboombu, everything is animated except the five people. They visit an “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance and Prof. Browne referees for an animal soccer game, which is nothing short of hilarious. The other cool effects come at the end when Miss Price makes all the old suits of armor take a stand against the Nazis. The way the Nazis try to shoot and fight the armor and the armor just being empty and basically indestructible is great. It’s like something out of Monty Python.
Everything ends happily in true Disney fashion. The Nazis run away, the kids get to stay with Miss Price, and Miss Price and Prof. Browne hook up. It’s adorable and done very well. This is one of my favorite children’s movies and I recommend it to anybody who enjoys that sort of thing.
- At one point, Miss Price brings out a jar of ‘Mangel-Wurzel Jam’ while serving dinner, claiming that it is “very nourishing.” Mangel-Wurzels are a type of large, yellowish beet commonly used as cattle-fodder – I’m not saying they couldn’t be made into jam, but I doubt it’d be the reddish color of the stuff in the jar.
- It’s my theory that the Isle of Naboombu is located somewhere off the coast of wherever Pinnochio is set. This would explain certain similarities in just what happens (or rather, doesn’t happen) to you when you go underwater.
- If the rabbit-spell used is not, in fact, a rabbit-spell, then why does it so consistently function as one? Perhaps it really is the rabbit-spell, and it’s just been mislabeled?
- That is one of the scruffiest cats I’ve ever seen.
- This may be the one appearance of prostitutes in a Disney movie.
- While, given the film’s intended American audience, it’s understandable that the game played on Naboombu is referred to as ‘soccer’ rather than ‘football’ (as it’s known just about everywhere else), it’s a little strange in-universe. True, Browne is probably just pandering to those in charge when he refers to it as such, but given that the island’s accents and culture seem to be loosely British in nature, why would the Naboombuians themselves call it that?
- One thing that makes me suspect that Miss Price’s part was intended for a younger actress is a mention from a military officer of her “late father” having served alongside him in the last war. This would make much more sense, given the timeline involved, if the father’s daughter in question were in her twenties rather than her forties.
- While the King of Naboombu’s name is never given during the film, it’s officially ‘King Leonidas’.
- According to the official rules of soccer, no-one should have won that game.
- The ancient armor in the climactic battle with the Nazis utilized authentic items of medieval armor, previously used in Camelot (1967) and El Cid (1961). When any item of armor was to be destroyed, exact fiberglass replicas were used.
Repeated line: Treguna, Mekoides, Trecorum Satis Dee.
Miss Price: (reading instructions) “Technically a witch is always a lady, except when circumstances dictate otherwise.”
Home guard: (singing) Call out the navy, call out the ranks/
Call out the Air Force, call out the tanks/
From the Cliffs of Dover, call out the gulls/
And don’t forget the loyal Terri-/Torials…
Miss Price: Lakipo Necriff Scrumpet Leech.
Charlie: A witch she is, says you. Then let’s use the old loaf, says I.
Repeated line: Filigree, Apogee, Pedigree, Perogee.
(Paul is trying to speak through Charlie’s hand)
Bookman: What is he trying to say?
Charlie: Nothing. When ‘e don’t say nothing, ‘e burbles.
Captain Greer: You there, which way to Pepperinge Eye?
Sign-painter: Couldn’t say, sir – it said on the wireless to paint out the signposts in case the Nazzies drop in.
Captain Greer: Well, I’m not a Nazi! I’m a British officer!
Sign-painter: That’s what you’d say if you was a Nazzie, isn’t it, sir?
Emelius Browne: (singing) Eglantine, Eglantine; oh how you shine/
Your lot and my lot/Have got to combine/
Eglantine, Eglantine, heart to the stars/
Destiny calls us/The future is ours!
Carrie: What d’you call your cat?
Miss Price: I don’t believe in giving animals ridiculous names; I call him Cosmic Creepers, because that’s the name he came with.
Emelius Browne: (singing) Portobello Road, Portobello Road/
Street where the riches of ages are stowed/
Anything and everything a chap can unload/
Is sold off the barrow in Portobello Road.
Charlie: ‘Poisoned Dragon’s Liver’?
Miss Price: Poisoned Dragon’s Liver.
Paul: You mean you poison the dragon, or just the liver?
Miss Price: Colonel, how would you feel about being turned into a nice white rabbit?
Charlie: Foul, foul!
Carrie: They’re only animals.
Charlie: That’s no excuse for dirty football!
Emelius Browne: (singing) As the shine sells the boot/
And the blossoms the fruit/
All you need to succeed in your plan/
Is the proper ally upon whom to rely/
And I’m your man!
Paul: I liked you better as a rabbit, Charlie.
Charlie: Shut up, you.
Paul: Well, I never ‘ad a rabbit.
Miss Price: Listen to me, Mr. Browne!
Emelius Brown: I’m all ears.
Miss Price: You will be if you don’t pay attention!
Song lyric: Bobbing along/Bobbing along on the bottom of the/
Beautiful briny sea/
What a chance/To get a better peep/
At the plants/And creatures of the deep…
Charlie: Don’t they have no rules?
Paul: ‘Course they do. The King makes ‘em up as he goes along.
Miss Price: That’s my nightgown!
Emelius Browne: Is it really, my dear?
Miss Price: Yes, and I’m not responsible for its behavior!
King Leonidas: Move it around; move it around!
Emelius Browne: (singing) You feel like a ballerina when you’re hopping
like a toad/When you kick your heels up down in Portobello Road!
Paul: Maybe she’s not a wicked witch.
Miss Price: Of course I’m not.
King Leonidas: Stop! That! BAAAAAAAAAALL!
Miss Price: Victory for England and St. George!
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Mary Poppins
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang