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"Bedknobs and Broomsticks" Enchanted Musical Edition - Now with Added Jennifer Stone!

Refreshingly Uncute Kids

From its release in 1971, Bedknobs and Broomsticks has never been able to escape the inevitable comparisons with Mary Poppins. The points of similarity are almost too obvious to note: a strong and magical female lead, children, the incomparable David Tomlinson, Reginald Owen (i.e. Admiral Boom in Mary Poppins), the mixture of live action and animation, London, the personal involvement of Walt Disney, songs by the Sherman Brothers, direction from Robert Stevenson, and several other key filmcrew personnel. Almost just as inevitably, Bedknobs and Broomsticks was never going to compare favorably to its predecessor because Mary Poppins is one of the greatest films ever made and, well, Bedknobs and Broomsticks isn’t.

However, I think it is unfair to persist with this comparison because as a film it has a lot to recommend itself. I watched it repeatedly as a child and cherish every moment of it to this day. Yes, some of my critical faculties are no doubt blunted by nostalgia and sentimentality, but this is still a great ride.

First of all, the plot is sufficiently bizarre and unpredictable to keep you engaged throughout — it is genuinely difficult to predict what is going to happen next. It’s a strange mix of wizardry, World War 2, magic books, evacuee children, 40s Britain, flying beds, animals who play football (that’s “soccer” for American readers), and walking suits of armour. There are several memorable set-pieces such as the romp through Portobello Road market, the cartoon adventure under the sea en route to the to the Isle of Naboombo, the aforementioned footy match once the main characters arrive there, and the fight between Nazis and magically animated items of clothing at the denouement.

The Dirty Yellows “Soccer” Team

It’s all held together by some wonderful looking sets. I mean this film really looks and feels like it was made in the 1940s, in many ways in terms of verisimilitude it has quite the edge over the artificial postcard version of Edwardian London found in Mary Poppins. The children all speak with authentic Cockney accents too — much more convincing at least that Dick Van Dyke’s notorious and hilariously awful effort in the earlier film!

The casting is also fantastic. Angela Lansbury, later of Murder She Wrote and Mrs. Tea Pot in Beauty & The Beast fame, is superb as the brittle wannabe-witch spinster, Miss Price. David Tomlinson, one of my all-time favourite actors (and on the strength of just two performances), is his usual vague, slightly-absent-minded-but-nonetheless-charming self as Mr. Browne. The kids are, refreshingly, a little less cute and a little more rough around the edges than you’d expect to find in Disney fare. Finally, there are some great cameos from Roddy McDowell as a fishy vicar and — one for UK readers — Bruce Forsyth as the seedy Swinburne, quite a nasty character!

Angela Lansbury as Miss Price

Finally, the Shermans are on top form here with some tunes that will stay in your head for days. I think they had a understanding of David Tomlinson because they always gave him such wonderful songs to sing — “Portobello Road” and “The Beautiful Briny” are as good as anything they’ve ever written. The hypnotic chant of “Substitutiary Locomotion” is also unforgettable while “The Age of Not Believing” received an Oscar nomination.

This DVD edition also includes the extra songs that were first released on laser disc back in the 1997 extended version. In truth, these were probably best left out. “With a Flair” is not a good song, and makes very little sense — Mr. Browne singing ‘I’m a fraud, a hoke, a charlatan, a joke’ as he’s hoodwinking people who look stern and disbelieving just doesn’t work, it’s too much. The other extra song “Nobody’s Problems” features such lyrical gems as “No one who needs me to ease his pain/ No one to call me his ball and chain”. I can’t help but feel that the studio knew exactly what they were doing back in 1971. I should also mention that the 6-minute extended version of “Portobello Road” seems to go on forever to the extent where it becomes actively boring. These additions needlessly disrupt the flow of the narrative and it would have been nice if Disney had included an option to view the original theatrical version.

Speaking of extras, this so-called “Enchanted Musical Edition” has several. Disappointingly two of them — the only two of any real worth — are rehashes from the 30th Anniversary Edition released in 2001. These are “Music Magic”, which is a 20 minute featurette with the Sherman Brothers talking about how they wrote the songs, and a short soundless clip of David Tomlinson recording “Portobello Road” with the final version of the song tackily re-dubbed onto it. Some form of commentary would have been nice.

Didn’t Quentin Tarantino direct this?

The new material on offer here comes in the form of “The Wizards of Special Effects” presented by “Jennifer Stone from Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place.” Miss Stone is unspeakably, excruciatingly, sickeningly irritating during this er … documentary. Presumably she was involved to appeal to a younger audience — I openly admit that I haven’t the foggiest as to who she is or what Wizards of Waverly Place is — but if this is what appeals to children these days they need to be re-educated and taught the value of good taste. I would sooner have the entire infant populations of North America and Europe subjected to a two-week course of Pavlovian reconditioning, somewhat akin to the scenes endured by the protagonists of 1984 and A Clockwork Orange, than to endure another second of Jennifer Stone’s voice, face, and general demeanor. This is easily the worst DVD featurette I have ever had the misfortune to cast my eyes upon; I was tempted to pull them out during it!

All in all then, a great film hampered by the inclusion of extra scenes that should have stayed on the cutting room floor and some shoddy extras. If you own this film already — that is, on VHS or on DVD — then there is literally no reason on earth to buy this “Enchanted Edition”. If do not own it or own it on VHS but wish to purchase yourself a DVD version, then track down the 30th Anniversary Edition from 2001 (it has a few extras this one doesn’t). If you wish to smash your monitor or television set or to endure torture no man or woman should ever have to, then purchase this and go straight to “The Wizards of Special Effects” presented by “Jennifer Stone from Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place“. You will regret it.

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