Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Okay, here’s a real current piece of comedy. I know Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins is a friend of mine. You, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, are no Mary Poppins. Even in your so-called “Enchanted Musical Edition.” See? That’s some fresh humor. It screams now. Well, maybe not right now. The point is, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is okay, but it’s never going to be Mary Poppins. Also, Lloyd Bentsen zinged the hell out of Dan Quayle, am I right? Unlike many Disney movies of the 1960s and 1970s, I’d never actually seen 1971’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks until I watched this new DVD edition. If you compare it to live-action Disney stuff coming out these days like Race to Witch Mountain and G-Force it seems like Citizen Kane, but in comparison to true classics like, well, Mary Poppins, it falls short. Still, if you can stick with the 140-minute running time, you will probably enjoy the performances and the silly-but-coherent plot. Plus, you get to see an ostrich playing soccer against a gorilla!

It wouldn’t be a true Disney movie without some cute kids. In this case, three of them, with the heaviest cockney accents imaginable, are moved from London to the country during the early days of World War II. They are boarded with Miss Price (Angela Lansbury), who is an apprentice witch. She’s taking witchcraft courses through the mail in order to learn something that will help with the war effort. That seems reasonable. I mean, when the first Gulf War started, my first thought was to cast a spell on Saddam Hussein that would turn him into a goat. The source of Miss Price’s training is Emelius Browne (David Tomlinson), a con man who is sending her spells out of an old book. Unbeknownst to him, the spells actually work, and Miss Price is using them to do things like turn people into rabbits and turn bedknobs into magical transportation devices.

Just like Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a musical with scenes blending live action and animation. It’s probably comparable to Mary Poppins in the animation-blending department. In fact, all the special effects are good, especially for 1971, and the film won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Unfortunately, despite both films using songs written by Richard and Robert Sherman, Mary Poppins kicks Bedknobs and Broomsticks up and down the street in the music department. Angela Landsbury is no Julie Andrews (who is?), and most of the songs are sung by David Tomlinson, who is only an average singer at best. Meanwhile, the tunes themselves don’t have the zip and life of “Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” There is a lengthy dance sequence for the song “Portobello Road” that rivals Poppins in quality, if not in excitement.

Lansbury and Tomlinson do bring good comic timing to their roles. While the whole plot is a little ridiculous and bizarre in its concept, it does deliver good laughs and excitement. If you don’t think too hard about why the Nazis show up in Miss Price’s village, you can enjoy her flying above them on a broom, leading a group of castle props brought to life by something called “"Substitutiary Locomotion". Some plot points seem unnecessary, especially Roddy McDowell as a somewhat shifty Vicar in Miss Price’s village.

It might be unfair to compare Bedknobs and Broomsticks to Mary Poppins, but in addition to sharing David Tomlinson and the Sherman Brothers, they also had the same director and writers. Taken on its own, the movie is okay, certainly worth watching if you have young kids around the house, just don’t expect a classic. Not wanting to wait around until the 40th anniversary of the movie in 2011, and having already missed the 35th in 2006, Disney is releasing Bedknobs and Broomsticks as the Enchanted Musical Edition. What that exactly means is anyone’s guess. My guess is that the Let’s Make Some Money Edition sounded too truthfully crass. The box boasts that it is restored and remastered, but that was also stated about the 30th Anniversary Edition in 2001, so if you have that, you aren’t getting much new here, filmwise.

The Enchanted Musical Edition does seem generally spiffy and sharp when compared to how you may have previously viewed this movie, on VHS or television. Still, some scenes were cut out of the theatrical release to get it down to two hours and were then added back in for a 25th Anniversary release; that’s the “restored” part. At several points, the dialogue and picture don’t quite sync up. One part of the “Portobello Road” film looks like someone walked on it before they copied it onto the DVD. It’s sort of a battle between perfect aesthetics and the complete movie. I would have voted for the aesthetics myself, since the movie was too long anyway, but reportedly it made the plot a little easier to follow.

The extras in this Edition don’t seem much different from those in the 30th Anniversary release, with one exception. Two animated shorts are not included, and you get some advertising for a current Disney television show hidden inside a look at the movie’s special effects. “The Wizards of Special Effects” is an eight-minute look at how they put man and animated animal together in one scene back in ye olden days of 1971. Then, they show you how they do it today on a specific Disney show. Then, they tell you to buy DVDs of the show and watch the show on television. It’s semi-interesting to learn about the process used way back when, but it’s not so interesting when they get to the present-day marketing.

In what has to be the funniest extra I’ve seen in awhile, “David Tomlinson ‘Portobello Road’ Recording Session” is short and sweet. You get to see Tomlinson sing the song in front of a microphone for about 50 seconds and then two guys talk and nod like he nailed it and that’s it. I mean, it’s the kind of thing that isn’t even that interesting if it’s part of some longer behind-the-scenes feature, and it’s the whole extra.

Longer and slightly more interesting is “Music Magic,” hosted by the Sherman Brothers. The brothers, mostly Richard, talk about the music for the movie, not unlike what they did for the Mary Poppins DVD. In fact, it almost looks like it was recorded on the same day, although my memory isn’t that great.

The final extra, apart from some trailers for the original film, is a reconstruction of a song called “A Step in the Right Direction,” sung by Angela Lansbury. The song was something that was cut to get the running time down, and when they went to restore it, they couldn’t find the film. Maybe Goofy used it as toilet paper! Oh man, that’s rich! Actually, that’s stupid, but not as stupid as a movie studio losing their movie. It’s sorta what they do. Anyway, using the original vocal track and production stills, you can see how the number fit into the film. It’s a catchy number.

If you have the 30th Anniversary Edition, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to get this, but if you missed it before it went into the “Disney Vault” or whatever they call it, it’s not a bad pick. It probably depends on if you already have Mary Poppins. If you don’t, go get that one first, but if you do and want something in the same general vein, then this is an okay choice.