Following on from the huge success of Mary Poppins, the Disney studio released Bedknobs and Broomsticks with hopes of replicating that success. The same standard themes were there, a spinster with magical powers, children who are neglected, a funny man love interest, plenty of songs and the clever use of animation with live actors. Julie Andrews was missing, as was Dick Van Dyke, but two able actors were placed in the starring roles, Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson. Tomlinson had appeared in Mary Poppins, but this time around he got to play the fun character and thrived on it.
The story is set in coastal England in 1940, with the threat of a German invasion ever present. Charlie, Carrie and Paul Rawlings are three orphaned children that have been sent to this coastal village to avoid the bombing blitz that is such a threat in London. Along with many other children, they are allocated to live with families in the village until this threat has passed. The Rawlings children are sent to live with spinster Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury), much to her surprise. Miss Price is secretly an apprentice witch and is studying via correspondence to become a fully-fledged witch with the ultimate aim being to help with the war effort.
One afternoon a parcel arrives for Miss Price from Professor Emelius Browne (David Tomlinson), her tutor from the correspondence school, containing a new broomstick with the spell to enable her to fly. While giving the broom a test flight, she is spotted by the children. In order to keep her secret, Miss Price agrees to give the children a travelling spell. The spell is applied to an object and will allow the owner of the object to travel wherever they wish - in this case the object is the knob from the end of the children's bed. Miss Price soon discovers her correspondence school is to close and the lessons will no longer continue. She is distraught because she only needs one more lesson and the final remaining spell, the “Substitutiary Locomotion Spell”.
They all jump aboard the bed and head to London for answers. When they arrive they discover that Professor Browne is in fact a con artist and has been sending spells that are stolen from a book he has. He shows Miss Price the book and the spell she needs is missing, in fact the other half of the book is missing. They then encounter the Bookman (Sam Jaffe) who owns the other half and who is also looking for the spell. It turns out that they must travel to the Island of Naboombu to find the answers they need. The only problem with this is that the inhabitants of Naboombu are not too keen on humans.
This is in fact the 25th Anniversary Edition release of this Disney favourite,which is probably not mentioned on the case because the film was released in 1971, making it actually 31 years since first released. For this version the excluded scenes from the original theatrical release have been included, most notably scenes featuring Roddy McDowall. The character played by McDowall seems a little pointless to be honest, an actor of this stature playing a generally unnecessary character.
While trying to emulate the success of Mary Poppins, this film sadly fails on many accounts. The mixture of animation with live actors is technically superb for its time, but the story is lacking in many ways. The music from the Sherman Brothers is adequate but nowhere near as memorable as their efforts on Mary Poppins and the acting of the lead characters is also only adequate. The one big advantage for this film, however, is the way it does deal with certain issues without the sugary sweet treatment of its predecessor, can you imagine Mary Poppins facing a Nazi invasion? This film also contains the mangiest cat I have ever seen and although the special effects look second rate by today’s standards, they were for the time superb and worthy of the Academy Award, the film itself garnering five nominations overall. Praise is justified for these effects, but don’t expect The Matrix style effects as guide wires are often seen.
This fails on so many levels when held up against Mary Poppins, but is still a reasonable effort from Disney. The obvious dubbing of some actors' voices was needed due to them being unavailable, however they could have been done so much better. The highlights are of course the special effects, but the animation doesn’t kick in until over an hour into this version. Overall though, this is the full version and not the original theatrical release, so Disney collectors will no doubt be pleased to add this to their collection. It is by no means a Disney classic, but it is one that most adults would enjoy revisiting and the kids should enjoy the animation and special effects, even though the story is a touch lacking.
Presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and 16x9 enhanced, this film looks very good for its age. Overall the film does show signs of its vintage, but the picture is still sharp throughout with little problems considering. Colours are vibrant - in many case too vibrant - but this is intentional. There are odd occasions where colours do vary and the most notable is during the song Portobello Road, where a dancer wearing a blue airforce uniform is suddenly wearing a dark grey uniform, either a quick change artist or a lack of colour consistency. Inconsistencies such as this are rare though and overall the colours are very good. Shadow detail is generally good with only minor problems with grain. Blacks are generally very deep and consistent and aliasing does occur, but again is not too much of a nuisance. There are a few film artefacts in the form of white flecks, but these are surprisingly a lot rarer than expected and have generally been removed.
The layer change occurs at 104:28 and is hardly noticeable. Subtitles supplied are a choice of English and English for the Hearing Impaired and both are true to what is occurring on screen. There are also some subtitles embedded on the actual film during some of the dialogue of the German soldiers, but surprisingly not all of their dialogue, leaving the viewer wondering what they are saying, unless of course the viewer can “sprekken ze Deutsch”.