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When people think of a Disney movie similar to Mary Poppins, the one that comes to mind is Bedknobs and Broomsticks. And why not? It shares many similarities with Mary Poppins. They both feature heroines with supernatural abilities, both feature much of the same cast/crew, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks was actually worked on by Walt Disney himself while waiting for the final go-ahead from P.L. Travers for Mary Poppins.
So is the film that’s most similar to Mary Poppins any good? Let’s find out! By the way, I’ll be reviewing the restored edition of the film (the one that makes the movie like 140 minutes long)!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The film starts with opening credits displayed on an old medieval tapestry.
After the credits play, we see our setting: the English countryside during WWII. The people are doing their best to prevent a Nazi invasion by blocking out road signs, having the Old Home Guard patrol and sing a catchy Sherman Brothers tune,
as well as having to take care of children who have been sent to the country from London. One inhabitant of this town, Miss Eglantine Price, played by Angela Lansbury, gets stuck with having to take care of three children. Unbeknownst to all, Miss Price is actually a witch-in-training who has been studying the art of witchcraft via a correspondence course from a Professor Emelius Browne in London. And having 3 kids around the house is sure to cause some trouble for her.
Nevertheless, she’s forced to take in Charlie, Carrie, and Paul, played by Ian Weighill, Cindy O’Callaghan, and Roy Snart, respectively, at least until someone else can take the kids off her hands. When she takes the kids home, she tries her best to keep them comfortable as she doesn’t care too much for having them nor do they care all that much for being there.
Later that night, after the kids have gone to sleep, Miss Price heads to her secret workroom and opens up her latest package from Professor Emelius Browne: a broom! And she even attempts to fly it.
It’s at this moment that the kids have woken up and are planning to run away from the house, but Charlie, the eldest, has an idea. They go back to their room and the next day, Charlie tries to be clever and blackmails Miss Price. He won’t reveal her secret identity as a witch and in turn, she can give in to some of his demands like not having to wash up all the time, being able to eat unhealthy foods, and getting paid cold, hard cash. But, the first lesson of blackmail is that you shouldn’t ever blackmail someone more powerful than you, especially a witch.
But since Miss Price isn’t exactly the most expert witch around, her spells don’t last too long and Charlie is soon back to his human self. After sitting down for a minute, Miss Price lets them know that she’s not a wicked witch. Rather, she’s learning witchcraft to help the war effort…somehow. And to entice the kids to keep this a secret, she gives them a spell: a bedknob which she enchants to be able to take them anywhere in the world that they want. Hmm…seems that Charlie’s blackmailing paid off.
Before they can all test out the magical bedknob, Miss Price receives a letter from Professor Emelius Browne stating that he has closed down his college of witchcraft due to the war, hence the final lesson of “substitutiary locomotion” will not be sent to her. Miss Price is gravely disappointed as this spell was the one that she was anticipating mostly! What’s to be done? Well, they do have a magical bedknob!
They decide to use the bedknob and travel to London to meet Professor Emelius Browne and get the substitutiary locomotion spell from him. As they get the bed ready for flight and Charlie shows some skepticism in this bed actually working as a magic carpet of sorts, Miss Price sings the Academy Award-nominated song, The Age of Not Believing. The song is basically about when one reaches a certain age/point in one’s life and loses faith in certain things and needs to regain hope in other things such as one’s self. I guess it’s a sweet song, but I personally never cared much for it nor think it deserving of an Oscar nomination!
Anyway, the bed actually works and they are soon transported to London. Once there, they find Professor Emelius Browne, but they quickly realize that he’s not exactly the type of professor that they had in mind.
Yep, Professor Browne, played by David Tomlinson (in what happens to be, to the best of my knowledge, his last of 3 Disney films) is pretty much a truthful con-artist, a magician who’s bad at his illusions, but admits to it. We know this from a song that he sings, With a Flair, which is probably my favorite song in the entire film.
Once Miss Price explains her situation to him, he hesitates to pay any mind to her, but after being transformed into a rabbit by her, he’s quickly astonished to find that one of his spells actually worked.
You see, the spells were just nonsense words that he got out of an old book and he just sold them to students in order to make a quick buck and didn’t really expect them to work. But now that he knows that they do work, he’s more inclined to listen to Miss Price and even invites her and the kids to his house where they can take a look at the original book from where he got the words.
At the house, the guests are treated to dinner and Professor Browne even sings a song, Eglantine, to Miss Price telling her how if she pairs up with him, they can create a remarkable double act combining her magic and his showmanship. However Miss Price isn’t interested in anything of the sort and just wants to take a look at the spell book.
After finally seeing it, she realizes that the second half of the book (which features the substitutiary locomotion spell) has been torn out of the book and that’s the reason why Professor Browne closed down the college. So now, the quest is to find the second half of the book. Where do they search first? In London’s famous Portobello Road, a road famous for its street markets that sell antiques and the like…a good place to look for a second half of a book as well as to sing a titular song.
After the quite long song-and-dance number is finished, the shopkeepers close up shop, vacate Portobello Road, and our protagonists are no further on in their journey to find the second half of the spell book. That is, until they’re threatened by a character of questionable decency named Swinburne, played by the surprisingly-cast Bruce Forsyth.
He holds them at knifepoint and takes them to a man known as the Bookman who would like to have a word with them. It seems that Swinburne overheard our heroes looking for the book in the markets and that his boss, the Bookman, actually owns the second half of the book. The Bookman, played by Sam Jaffe, tells Miss Price that he wants for them to swap their halves be it cooperatively or via Swinburne’s persuasion. Not surprisingly, Miss Price chooses to go the cooperative route.
However, the swap is unsatisfactory as the second half of the book doesn’t give the words to the substitutiary locomotion spell. Rather, it mentions that the words are inscribed on a medallion worn by an old sorcerer that is now in the hands of an anthropomorphic animal race that may or may not exist.
Yeah, apparently, this sorcerer had some dealings with animals and the magic got all askew causing the animals to develop anthropomorphism, murder the sorcerer, and live on a mysterious island somewhere in the world. As strange as this sounds, Paul mentions that one of the children’s books that he got from Professor Browne’s house talks about an island called Naboombu that has a civilization of anthropomorphic animals led by a lion king,
a lion king named Leonidas who wears this amulet over his neck.
Miss Price, the kids, and Professor Browne are soon convinced that this island in this children’s book exists and hop on their bed and wish to go there. Why don’t the Bookman and Swinburne stop them? Well, if someone told you that they were going to be transported by a magical bed, would you believe it?
After our heroes are transported, Swinburne and the Bookman look in shock! So what do they do next? Umm…well, we don’t know. We never see them again. Yep, these characters appear in the movie for like 15 minutes and…that’s it.
Anyway, the bed isn’t exactly the best navigational system in the world as it falls into the Naboombu Lagoon instead of the land part of the island itself. No trouble, as it gives a chance for the Disney animators to create a Jolly Holiday-like sequence mixing live-action and animation with an unused Mary Poppins song entitled The Beautiful Briny.
After our heroes make it to the land part, they discover that the King is in a really bad mood as there doesn’t seem to be anyone willing to referee the Royal Soccer Match that he had “so set his heart on”. And as soon as our heroes notice that the King is wearing the medallion, Professor Browne volunteers to be the referee in an effort to try to read the words inscribed on the medallion.
What follows is a quite enjoyable “soccer” match featuring animals and practically no rules. But the King’s team wins in the end, as he is the King after all.
After the game has finished, Professor Browne still hasn’t gotten a chance to look at the words on the medallion, so he surreptitiously steals the medallion and our heroes quickly take the bed back to Miss Price’s house.
Once there, Miss Price wants to get to work on the spell, but trouble arises as the medallion seems to have vanished. Apparently, you can’t take objects from one world into another world. Now this is where it gets confusing. We’ve already assumed that this island of Naboombu is an actual island in the real world, and NOT a different realm/dimension, hence the medallion shouldn’t have disappeared!
Our heroes try desperately to remember the words inscribed on the medallion until Paul shows them a page from his Naboombu book that has a picture of the medallion with the words in big, readable font. The words were in his blasted book the entire time!!!!
Anyway, after that pointless detour, Miss Price tries out the spell (with a song, of course) and it makes all the clothing in her house come to life.
Miss Price is upset that she isn’t able to master the spell, but that feeling of depression has to be put temporarily on hold as the Germans have made a surprise practice attack on the village that night! In an effort to stop the invasion, Miss Price (with the help of Professor Browne and the kids) uses the substitutiary locomotion spell on the arcane pieces of armor on display at the local museum which causes them to come to life and fight off the invading Nazis in a quite enjoyable climax!
The movie ends with Professor Browne going off to join the Old Home Guard and Miss Price deciding to keep the kids with an implication that they can have even more adventures with their magical bed. Oh, and Roddy McDowall appears in this film for like 10 minutes, but his character isn’t that important, so I refrained from mentioning him earlier.
And that’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks. And what can I say besides that it’s worth checking out?
It’s definitely not as perfect as Mary Poppins. The film has MANY plotholes, MANY things that are unexplained, MANY characters that are underused, and features some bad acting from the kids at times. But you tend to forgive the film for its faults because of all the other positive aspects: the enjoyable music and songs (though second to Mary Poppins‘ music and songs), the animation/live action mix, the characters, the locations, and of course, David Tomlinson!
If you haven’t checked the film out yet, you better do it soon!
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So, the final score for this film is 30/35 = 85.71% (B) !
The next review will be posted on July 21st.
21 thoughts on “Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)”
I love the movie, but I very much prefer the heavily edited version I grew up with (yes, for once I am actually pro cutting down a movie). For starters, there are three songs less in this version (they cut the homeguard completely (which, I think, makes for a nicer ending….instead of Emelius suddenly becoming all patriotic, it is implied that he decides to stick around and take responsibility for the little family), also “The age of non-believing” and the Eglantine song), the Portobello scene is way shorter. I guess they should have left in the scene in which the children explain that they are orphans, though.
High points are naturally the football game (the movie is set in England, it’s football, plus, I never get why the Americans call a game which is not played with the feet football in the first place) and the climax (though, again, the version I know is a little shorter and never overstays its welcome).
You know what? I really should put Ms. Price on the potential heroine list…while there is a love story, it is clearly not the central theme of the movie. Mmm…perhaps I should do a “witch month” or something like that…..If I can come up with witches for each category.
oh, they also cut the part with the star suddenly vanishing, which makes for a much better movie.
Yeah, the star vanishing is just a pointless detour. And a witch month would be awesome if you can find enough people.
I find it weird that they’d cut ‘The Age of Not Believing’ since it did get an Academy Award nomination. But yeah, ‘Portobello Road’ is SOOOO long in the full version.
So when/how does the movie end in the edited version? Does it just end as soon as the Nazis flee?
Well, you first get the scene in which Ms. Price says that she is content with not being a witch anymore and next there are the three children, with Carrie bemoaning that there won’t be anymore fun now, and then Paul shows of the knob.
I guess the version I know is a little bit weird in that they removed ANY reference to the Nazi’s (it was for the German market after all), instead they always talk about “the enemy”. Which kind of works better for me in hindsight. The tone in the movie is so light-hearted, Nazi’s don’t really fit in there.
This is a movie I have to go out and buy. I haven’t seen it in YEARS and honestly the only part I ever remembered was the part on the island and the end battle. I also remember thinking “Portobello road” was “portabella road” and wondering why they weren’t selling mushrooms!
Thanks for the review! You’ve piqued my interest in seeing it again!
I’m glad I piqued your interest! Disney films should be watched over and over again…the good ones, anyway!
Loved this movie as a kid. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
You’re welcome! Disney movies are always a great trip to take…the good ones, at least.
It amazes me that Roger Ebert praised The Black Cauldron, the film that almost destroyed Disney Studios, as a return to classic form: “By the end of The Black Cauldron I was remembering, with something of a shock of nostalgia, the strength and utter storytelling conviction of the early Disney animators. The Black Cauldron is a return to the tradition”, and yet he wrote such a negative review of this movie: “The Disney people seem to be drifting farther and farther away from a sympathetic understanding of what kids really enjoy at the movies. Sometimes they try to pass off their sad, dumb movies as family entertainment….. I have a hunch that if you had a strong, highly motivated lead in one of these pictures it would show up the flabbiness of the whole conception.”
Especially considering both you and Doug Walker liked this!
I didn’t know that Ebert said that about this movie. That is strange!
Yep, Doug Walker and I share similar views sometimes 😉 .
This was the same year he trashed The Million Dollar Duck. But what I can’t understand is it being one of only 3 movies Gene Siskel walked on. I will never forgive him for that.
I haven’t seen ‘The Million Dollar Duck’ yet; how is it?
I hope you are planning to review it. I honestly do think it’s just a fun silly movie. I do like it a lot. I watched it just yesterday in fact and enjoyed it as much as I did when I was 12. I think it is a genuine classic, and everyone I have watched it with has agreed with me. My 65-year-old aunt said, when I asked her if she liked it, “It was funny when it needed to be, sad when it needed to be, and action-packed when it needed to be, too……”
But then I got into a lot of forgotten live-action Disney movies when I was 12, just having my dad buy them off Amazon.
If you’re going to review it, I also recommend you review No Deposit No Return, Gus, The Barefoot Executive, Monkeys, Go Home!, and Blackbeard’s Ghost.
Oh yeah, my intention for the blog is to review ALL the theatrical live-action Disney films, so they’re all definitely on my list somewhere down the line.
I remember Doug Walker’s strong recommendation for this film back in 2013, and he suggested locating the original cut on DVD because the most common version is the extended version and apparently the songs go on a tad too long in that version.
I was wondering what your recommendation would be, as I have’t seen the film and want the best experience from it. If you could provide a link to the version you watched or you think is best, please leave it in the comments. 🙂
I personally prefer the extended version for two reasons: 1) It’s the version I’ve seen most and 2) It keeps in my favorite song of the film, ‘With a Flair’, which is cut in the common version.
That’s not to say that it is without its faults. The extended version does have scenes that just go on too long especially in the ‘Portobello Road’ sequence, but to me, it’s just one of those things you have to bear.
Thanks, dude! 🙂
I last saw this film on VHS several years ago, and I’m intent on re-watching it.
Reading this review, I’m rather surprised that Bruce Forsyth was in this; I’ll have to keep my eyes open, to see if he’s any good. (I haven’t seen any of his film roles, but he was an absolute scream as the guest star on episode 113 of THE MUPPET SHOW.)
In regards to the role that Eglantine Price plays in the film, she strikes me as being sort of a combination of Mary Poppins and Kiki (from KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE)- the latter being included in the mix due to the fact that she’s a witch-in-training, who doesn’t quite have the knack of flying yet….
Yeah, Bruce Forsyth’s role is mostly just a cameo; he isn’t in it that much if I remember correctly. And it’ll be good to watch it again in honor of his passing.
That’s a good way to describe Eglantine Price actually!