Originally Released: October 1971
Runtime: 119 Minutes (Original runtime)
Directed by: Robert Stevenson
Notable Actors: Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson, John Ericson
Growing up, I can’t tell you exactly the relationship I had with Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but I can tell you that I watched it very often. So often in fact, that it was one of the first films on this journey that I actually remembered fairly well. From the songs to the characters, it all came back to me in an instant. This was my Mary Poppins. After all, my first novel was all about witches and something tells me that subliminally this film had something to do with that. While Bedknobs might not be the runaway hit that Mary Poppins was, it manages to be fantastic in its own right and stands as one of the most unique and timeless films on our list so far.
I’ve come to think of Bedknobs as the sloppy seconds of Mary Poppins. Many of the songs are taken from those written for Poppins but never used. Bedknobs uses some of the same actors. It uses animation. Even many of the same team members worked on the film. Yet many times, this film is forgotten and most folks haven’t even seen it. Based on the book series by Mary Norton, Bedknobs was originally meant to be a 2.5 hour long epic, but when the film was finished and shown, many people found it to be far too long. It was cut down to a solid two hours and several songs, scenes, and dance numbers were cut. During a re-release in 1979, the film was cut even further, down to 96 minutes, leaving ‘Portobello Road’ and ‘Beautiful Briny Sea’ as the only two songs still in the film. Luckily, in 2001, the film was released yet again with all 139 minutes of witchery included.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks tells the often darker than it realizes story of Miss Englantine Price, a wannabe witch who lives alone with her cat Cosmic Creepers. The film is set during World War 2 and When Miss Price is asked to take in three children, Charlie, Carrie and Paul, her world gets turned upside down. Things get even worse when she finds out that her mail-in witchcraft lessons, which are a bit like birch box but with more dragon liver, are cancelled. She sets off with the children, on their charmed bed, to find Mr. Emelius Brown and obtain the final lesson.
What I absolutely love about Miss Englantine is that she is not a bad witch at all, even though she lives with all the stereotypes. She flies a broom, has an evil black cat, does witchcraft in the middle of the night, but her reasoning all boils down to wanting to be able to help the war effort by bringing inanimate objects to life to end the war and save lives. Talk about a noble witch. Angela plays the role well and we feel for Englantine instantly. She’s sort of a shoddy witch. Her spells don’t always work and when they do they don’t stick for long, but her heart is very much in the right place and that’s what counts.
I think the children here are much more fully formed as characters than those in Poppins. Charlie is stubborn and refuses to believe in anything as he has reached “The Age of Not Believing,” while Carrie is kind and compassionate and Paul is a little kid, who just wants to be heard. They feel more alive and unique than the two kids in Poppins who really could have just been one person. Paul is uniquely adorable and every time he talks with his cockney accent, you just want to pinch his cheeks.
Emelius is equally lovable. I think of him like the live action version of the Tramp or Thomas O’Malley. He lives by his own rules and takes what he feels the world owes him, living in an abandoned house, selling fake magic tricks on the street. He’s a character for sure, but one that has enough charms to forgive his seedier side. I also like the aspect of his character which says that magic only works with a bit of flair. Rhythm and showmanship are just as important as the spell itself. It provides an interesting quirk to magic and also feels very Disney.
There is a lot going on in this movie with several different set pieces and a journey which spans the globe, but I want to make sure that I touch on the animated portion of this film as this is Vault Disney, a series mainly about animation. The Island of Naboombu, where our heroes travel to find their cartoony animal friends, is one of the stand out segments of the film.
Drifting underwater on the bed is so unique and I can’t think of anything in another film that quite matches it. The acrobatics of having the actors sing and dance underwater is fun and leaves a smile sprawled on your face as you watch it. ‘Beautiful Briny Sea’ is also one of my favorite songs in the film and it’s a wonder to think that it was repurposed from Mary Poppins.
Once we finally do get to the island, the animals are all very interesting and there is a certain grand idea about these animals in knowing that they murdered the wizard who made them the way they are. They are untrusting and rowdy and seeing the proper British characters interact with them is pretty cute. I especially love the bear who proclaims, as it is written on a sign, “No Peopling Allowed.”
The soccer match is something of a spectacle and I will say that often times in this film, the sequences seemed to go on just a tad long for my liking. Another such case is the dance number, Portobello Road, which sees several different ethnicities of dancers running up and down the shady street market until it finally closes. These scenes overstay their welcomes by mere minutes but I did find myself on the edge of my seat one too many times, in hopes that they would simply get on with it.
After the Island and Portobello road, things take a dark twist as the Nazi’s come ashore. Suddenly, it all feels a bit real. However, that being said, there’s a lot of pay off here. Emelius finally believing enough to turn himself into a rabbit is wonderful and Englantine finally riding gracefully on her broomstick as she commands her army of armor across the battlefield feels like one of the most epic things we’ve seen in a Disney film yet.
These suits were originally used in the Spanish film El Cid and then again in Camelot before finally coming to this film so they had a long history of showmanship. These scenes feel so epic and ahead of their time. All of the suits of armor on the hill is something out of Lord of the Rings and was done long before that Frodo ever visited Mount Doom.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a very fun film, if not a little long for its own good. The adventure is grand and takes witchcraft in a wholly new direction while exploring the evils of war, if maybe just a bit on the lighter Disney side. This was the last film which was produced during the life of Roy Disney, Walt’s brother and business partner, who passed away only a week after its debut. While it leaves a great legacy for him, this film also introduced me to the amazing Angela Lansbury as a child and for that I am eternally grateful. Bedknobs uses all the tricks in the book as well as some fantastic animation to create one of the most epic, world spanning adventures we’ve seen yet and it does it all while giving us a song to hum and a witch to root for.
Next up we’ll return to animated films with #21 – Robin Hood.
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NOTE: Obviously all the photos are courtesy of Disney Entertainment and I would never in a million years claim them as my own. That being said, all are actually taken with my phone during our viewing in order to capture the moment in a slightly different way than originally intended.
ALSO: My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney. Head over HERE and check it out!