Magic, mayhem, and just a bit of love fill this 1971 family film.
Cast and Crew Information
Angela Lansbury as Miss Price
David Tomlinson as Emelius Browne
Roddy McDowall as Mr. Jelk
Cindy O’Callaghan as Carrie
Roy Snart as Paul
Ian Weighill as Charlie
Book by Mary Norton. Screenplay by Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi. Animation story by Ralph Wright and Ted Berman.
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Apprentice witch Ms. Price is forced to take in three orphans during the early days of World War Two. Her plans to become a witch to aid the war effort derail when her correspondance school closes. Not one to give up, she and her young charges journey to London to find her former headmaster, only to find things are never as they seem.
The armies of history march against the Nazi invaders.
This is a children’s movie clocking in at 2:19, based on witchcraft and musical numbers, and it takes over half an hour to see either witchcraft or musical numbers. Man, this is slow for the target audience.
This is an adaptation, and it feels like it’s trying very hard to recapture the success of Mary Poppins, so it doesn’t feel original. (It’s the same director, still using David Tomlinson as a star, employing Walsh and DaGradi as screenwriters, and taking some kids from “Olde Tyme” London on a magical journey in and out of animated and magical worlds.) I give it 2 out of 6.
The effects had improved since the 1964 outing. The animation, transformation and transportation sequences all needed some tricky photography in the days before CGI and blue-screens, and the substitutiary locomotion sequences are actually quite well done. There had to be wires or rods keeping most things in motion, but I can’t see them. I give it 5 out of 6, particularly since this was a 1971 release.
The story is logically sound, though it tends to drag. There are a lot of “spectacle” scenes, most notably on Portobello Road, which seem to hijack the narrative flow just to spend time on nifty visuals. I give it 4 out of 6.
The acting gets a bit stiff. Lansbury and Tomlinson are okay, but the child actors and Nazis are all terrible. I give it 3 out of 6.
The production is pretty pedestrian. The lighting in the live action portions uses various shades of “dim.” In fact, the sequence in the workshop lit by a single lamp to the right of the actors has very clear shadows running behind the actors. One of them even cast a shadow on the “light source” in the scene! How does that not seem obvious to the production crew? At least have them stand behind the table the lamp is on so it doesn’t show as clearly while the lamp is in the frame. Little things like this crop up all the way through, and they add up. I give it 3 out of 6.
The emotional response is due partly to quality and partly to nostalgia. It’s a bit slow going, but the second half does have its fun sequences. I give it 4 out of 6.
Overall, it’s a decent family movie for the near-ten age group who have the attention span for it. (No wonder my niece won’t watch it yet; I clearly didn’t remember it accurately when I suggested it and ended up in Hotel for Dogs instead.) If you have access to Mary Poppins, go that route instead. I give it 4 out of 6.
In total, Bedknobs and Broomsticks receives 25 out of 42.
Additional Notes and Comments
Don’t think times are changing? The romantic leads in this movie were 46 (Angela Lansbury) and 54 (David Tomlinson) years old the day this movie was released. The characters then continue to care for three kids, ages 11 and below, with no mention of legal adoption or foster care.