Title: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Country: USA, UK
Language: English, German
Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy, Comedy, Animation
Director: Robert Stevenson
based on the books of Mary Norton
Music: Irwin Kostal
Cinematography: Frank V. Phillips
A restored 139-min version of this quintessential Disney entertainment, under the helm of the ambidextrous conjuror Robert Stevenson, who has once brought us MARY POPPINS (1964).
BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS is a whimsical and kind-hearted genre-buster, a menagerie of comedy, musical (catchy ditties written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert Be. Sherman), live-action fantasy and animation, it won BEST SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS in the Oscars. The story takes places in Great Britain during the high point of WWII, an apprentice witch Eglantine Price (Lansbury, as immaculate and one-of-a-kind as ever) is saddled with three children, Charlie (Weighill), Carrie (O’Callaghan)and Paul (Snart), who are evacuated from London during the Blitz, in the rural town Pepperinge Eye. After an initial adjusting period, during which an 11-year-old Charlie, the oldest of the three, in the age of not believing, cunningly and constantly blackmails Miss Price for monetary gain in exchange of keeping her secret safe, a special bond begins to shape up when they embark on an adventure to seek out a final magic spell when her correspondence school of witchcraft announces its closure due to the warfare.
Eglantine casts a transportation spell on her bed-knob, and asks Paul, the youngest kid, to keep it, only under Paul’s command, the bed can transport them to wherever he dictates. When they locate Mr. Emelius Browne (Tomlinson, recruited again for his avuncular affinity), the headmaster of the said school in London, it turns out that Mr. Browne is merely an unlucky street con artist, he is not blessed with the gift for witchcraft as Miss Price does, but he is on board for the journey nevertheless, which augurs a remotely romantic undercurrent.
After an elongated set piece in Portobello Road, where a fanfare of ethnographic dancing display takes place gratuitously, the film will be channeled into the innovative passage where live-action and traditional animation studiously coalesce together in the island of Naboombu, governed by a pack of anthropomorphic wild animals. This part can be safely excised from the whole picture, narrative-wise, and presented itself as an individual cartoon short about a jejune soccer match with distinctively animalistic sketch, as back in home, Miss Price will soon realise the spell she has been looking for is just around the corner where she never cares to look.
The final chapter is an act of sheer patriotism, preceded by Mr. Browne’s self-deprecating retreat to play hard-to-get for a reason rather too obvious, followed by a generalised and G-rated battle between archaic museum exhibits (under her hard-earned Substitutiary Locomotion spell) and a platoon of ill-fated Nazi soldiers, reaches its well-aimed crescendo. Sadly from a grown-up’s view, the story’s innate shortage of any sophisticated characterisation owing to its children-pandering propensity foils any attempt to thrill audience who is looking for something a bit more than a common family treat. Only if one could watch it for the first time as a kid, which could make a grand difference after all, that’s also the chance those family ventures are taking, ad infinitum.