Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
Studio Line: Walt Disney Pictures

An Academy Award winner for Best Visual Effects, Bedknobs And Broomsticks is a magical blend of live action and animation that makes it one of Disney's most enduring classics. This magical 30th anniversary edition version of the film is now yours to enjoy in digital splendor on this remastered, fully restored DVD!

Bedknobs And Broomsticks is the enchanting story of an amateur witch who, along with three precocious orphans, flies into one fantastic adventure after another aboard a bewitched bed. The legendary Angela Lansbury is charming as the witch, and the inimitable David Tomlinson, (Mary Poppins) delights as the amusing professor whose help Lansbury and the children enlist in order to find an ancient incantation that will save the country from hostile invaders!

This special edition Bedknobs And Broomsticks DVD includes many bonus features and is sure to be a film the entire family will want to watch again and again!

Director: Robert Stevenson
Cast: Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson, Roddy McDowall, Sam Jaffe, John Ericson, Bruce Forsyth
Academy Awards: Won for Best Special Visual Effects. Nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Costume Design; Best Score; Best Song-"The Age of Not Believing". 1972.
DVD: Widescreen 1.66:1/16x9; audio English DD 5.1; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 25 chapters; rated G; 139 min.; $29.99; street date 3/20/01.
Supplements: "The Worm Turns" Animated Short Starring Mickey Mouse; "The Vanishing Private" Animated Short Starring Donald Duck; All-New "Music Magic" Featurette With The Sherman Brothers Songwriting Team, Angela Lansbury And Scott MacQueen On The Making Of The Film; "A Step In The Right Direction" - Deleted Song; Bedknobs And Broomsticks Scrapbook - 3 Still Frame Galleries, Including Concept Art, Advertising & Publicty And Merchandising; Theatrical Trailers; "Portobello Road" Recording Session With David Tomlinson - Never Before Seen.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/B/B-

Many people view 1971’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks as a poor cousin to Mary Poppins, and the comparisons between the two are quite logical. Both are musicals in which a) a magical woman cares for - and straightens out - some mildly-problematic kids and b) animation is combined with live-action footage. Both films were directed by Robert Stevenson, written by Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi, and featured songs by the Sherman brothers. Indeed, the two projects have so much in common that when the production of 1964’s Poppins looked iffy due to rights questions, B&B was prepped as its alternate.

Obviously things went forward with Poppins, so B&B had to remain in the bullpen for another seven years. When it appeared, it did decently except for the ignominious fate of those inevitable comparisons. While I still can’t say they aren’t warranted, B&B nonetheless deserves some attention of its own, for it’s actually a fairly entertaining and winning film.

In 1940, German bombings threaten the safety of London residents, so the city’s children are shipped to the country to keep them from the danger. Despite her protestations, eccentric single woman Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury) takes in three kids: oldest Charlie (Ian Weighill), middle Carrie (Cindy O’Callaghan), and youngest Paul (Roy Smart). They aren’t too eager to be with her either, and - spurred by cynical little Charlie - they immediately hatch a plan to escape back to London.

However, the kids - and the audience - soon learn that Miss Price is no ordinary spinster. Indeed, she’s a full-fledged witch, or at least a trainee who still needs to finish a lesson or two from her correspondence course. In any case, the kids decide to stick with Eglantine, largely because Charlie figures he can blackmail her; the other two - especially Paul - seem more eager to have a stable place to stay.

Apparently due to wartime concerns, Professor Emelius Browne (David Tomlinson) doesn’t send Eglantine’s final lesson, so she uses her traveling spell to whisk the kids and herself to London to find him. Method of transportation: bed, as operated by the knob. (Hence part of the movie’s title; the “broomstick” only comes into play a couple of times during the film and it less important than the “bedknob”.) Once there, they find Browne and embark on a journey to discover the secret to “substitutiary locomotion”, a spell that Eglantine hopes will sway the war effort to the side of the Allies.

One way in which B&B differentiates itself from Poppins stems from its storyline - it actually has one. Poppins was more a conglomeration of different episodes linked together by the overall theme, whereas in B&B, the film always goes forward in search of that “subtitutiary locomotion” spell. Granted, it takes about 800 sidetrips along the way, so B&B will never be accused of being a terribly plot-driven movie, but at least it attempts to create a coherent narrative; as with then-recent animated efforts like The Jungle Book and The Sword In the Stone, many Disney films felt like little more than compendiums of unrelated skits, so it’s nice to see a flick that tried to form a true story.

Also in the “positive” category are the cast of B&B. While none of the adult actors truly distinguish themselves, they seem more than adequate for the roles. However, I must note that Roddy McDowall appeared wasted as Mr. Jelk, the local vicar. He has little to do and showed no obvious reason for existing at all; the character could have been completely cut from the movie and no one ever would have noticed.

I was rather impressed by the children of B&B, or at least the boys; middle children usually get the shaft, and Carrie’s no exception, as poor O’Callaghan doesn’t get to do much in the film. As wily Charlie, Weighill provides appropriate levels of duplicity and cynicism, and Smart offers a charming but not excessively saccharine portrait of innocent little Paul. British child actors usually seem much more believable and “normal” than American kids; the Brits often lack many of the cutesy and cloying qualities of our tots, which makes them much more enjoyable to watch.

As for the remainder of the production, it seemed eminently adequate. The quest for the magic spell became exceedingly muddled along the way, as it got bogged down by side treks and musical numbers. The latter were a minor nuisance in my opinion. About a half an hour passes in B&B before we hit the first true musical bit, but after that, the tunes come at a more rapid pace, and some of them went on too long. I felt the story was confused enough as it was; the song and dance bits just made matters really drag.

Still, the songs themselves weren’t bad. The Shermans didn’t outdo themselves here, but the tunes are generally tolerable and didn’t bother me too much. For me, the only number that really wore out its welcome was “Portobello Road”, simply because it went on forever. Otherwise, the songs were concise enough to remain acceptable.

Ironically, “Portobello Road” wasn’t always such an extended piece. The DVD of B&B represents its “restored” length of 139 minutes. For many theatrical exhibitions, it was cut to 117 minutes, but the 25th anniversary laserdisc brought it back to the original running time. It seems unclear whether B&B lasted 139 minutes in 1971 showings but was shortened in a later reissue, or if the longer version never appeared on movie screens, even in 1971; different sources state different things. In any case, the DVD does provide the film as originally intended, for better or for worse.

Granted, I never saw the shorter cut, so I can’t say which I find superior. I just could have lived without the longer version of “Portobello Road”. In any case, most of Bedknobs and Broomsticks provides a fun excursion. It doesn’t belong among the best Disney have to offer, but it’s generally entertaining, and considering the poor quality of most Seventies work from the studio - such as the abysmal Pete’s Dragon - “generally entertaining” is more than acceptable.

The DVD:

Bedknobs and Broomsticks appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although it betrays some concerns at times, as a whole B&B presented a terrific picture, especially in regard to the film’s age and history.

Sharpness generally seemed nicely crisp and well-defined. A small amount of softness crept into some wider shots, and those that combined animated and live-action elements also showed a slightly fuzzy look at times, but these were modest. All in all, the image appeared detailed and accurate. Moiré effects and jagged edges seemed absent, and print flaws were surprisingly minor. Most of the defects showed up in the animated sequences; the combination of live-action with the cartoon led to more examples of grit, grain and speckles than we saw elsewhere. Those elements also cropped up during the rest of the movie, but they remained consistently mild; for the most part, the movie seemed clean.

Colors were a highlight of the DVD, as they usually seemed wonderfully rich and vivid. B&B packed in a nice variety of hues, including some lovely pastel tones and vibrant purples. Colors appeared consistently solid, with no signs of bleeding or noise, and they provided a sumptuous viewing experience. Black levels came across as deep and solid, and shadow detail looked appropriately opaque but never excessively heavy. Ultimately, this was an excellent picture with few problems attached.

Also fairly good was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of B&B. The soundfield presented a modest environment, but it seemed fine for a film of this vintage. Mainly it was music that benefited from the multi-channel treatment, and the songs and score indeed offered very solid stereo separation. The music also was nicely bolstered by the surround speakers, and the entire track seemed to cleanly engulf me. Otherwise, I heard some modest side and rear channel spread to the effects - most of which occurred during the soccer sequence - but most of these elements stayed strongly anchored in the center.

Audio quality seemed typical for the period but presented no serious problems. Actually, dialogue displayed the biggest concerns, mostly due to the restored material. A number of speech stems apparently became lost, so these lines were dubbed for the film’s 25th anniversary. Some of the original participants - like Angela Lansbury and Roddy McDowall - did their own parts, but others were performed by different actors. Most notable among these was the substitution for David Tomlinson. All of the dubbed lines were easily noticeable, but Tomlinson’s were the worst, for the substituting actor sounded very little like him. I understand the need for newly-recorded speech to restore the movie to its original length, but I think they could have better cast the parts.

Otherwise, speech appeared a bit thin and flat, but dialogue was consistently clear and intelligible, even in the face of the various accents. Effects were also somewhat dull and they generally lacked dynamic range; I heard a little rumble during the soccer game, but that was an exception. Nonetheless, the effects came across as acceptably clean and accurate for the era. Music seemed a bit brighter and more engaging, though the songs and score also failed to transmit much depth. In the end, the quality of the audio was average for its period, but the nicely engaging musical soundfield brought up my grade to a solid “B”.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks provides a decent little package of extras. First up is Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers, a featurette that apparently ran on the Disney Channel. This 20-minute and 25-second program mainly chats with the Shermans as they discuss their music for the film, with a primary focus on songs cut from the original release. In addition, we learn a lot more about the production from Angela Lansbury and film restorer Scott MacQueen, and the piece also offers a nice mix of production art and behind the scenes footage. It’s a solid little piece that included some good information about the movie.

One fun snippet appears in the guise of a David Tomlinson Recording Session. This 70-second clip shows Tomlinson as he croons a few bars of “Portobello Road” with the guidance of arranger/conductor Irwin Kostal. It’s a neat look at this element, though unfortunately the original audio doesn’t survive. Instead, the finished track is played over the piece, so we can’t hear the short discussion between Kostal and Richard Sherman at the end. Still, it’s a cool addition to the disc.

A Step In the Right Direction’ Reconstruction attempts to rebuild a deleted scene from the film. The audio for the song “Step” still exists, but only still photos of the production remain. As such, this three minute and 45 second piece plays the tune on top of these snapshots. The song did little for me, but I was happy to see the inclusion of this effort. As with many of Disney’s “Gold Classic Collection” DVDs, B&B features some classic animated shorts. Here we find two of these: 1937’s seven-minute, 45-second Mickey Mouse vehicle called The Worm Turns, and 1942’s seven-minute and 20-second Donald Duck piece entitled The Vanishing Private. The Mouse’s clip is generally fun but it becomes a little monotonous. In it, Mickey invents a formula that’ll “toughen up” the recipient. For fun, he helps reverse the natural order of things; as such, we see cat attack dog, dog go after dogcatcher, etc. As for the Duck’s war-time effort, it’s an amusing piece in which he finds a paint that makes things invisible. After he applies it to himself, he gleefully torments his superior officer Pete. “TVP” was unusual in that Donald had the upper hand throughout the short, and he never got mad; it’s odd to see him in the driver’s seat, but it was a good cartoon nonetheless.

A few other minor supplements appear as well. We get four theatrical trailers for B&B, the first three of which seem to have accompanied the movie’s initial release in 1971. While the fourth doesn’t mention a reissue, I have the feeling it does come from a later re-release, especially since it plays off of the famous “you’ll believe a man can fly” tagline of 1978’s Superman. Film Facts provides eight screens of text production notes, while the Bedknobs and Broomsticks Scrapbook includes a bunch of still frame images. Presented in a true “scrapbook” format, we find two to four stills per “page” for a total of 38 pictures. These encompass production shots, character sketches, and advertising concepts plus a few other images for a nice little package.

Lastly, we find the often-disliked “forced trailers” that appear at the start of many Disney DVDs. Here we get ads for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, 102 Dalmatians, and The Emperor’s New Groove Lastly, we find the often-disliked “forced trailers” that appear at the start of many Disney DVDs. As always, these can be easily skipped with the press of a button on your remote; as such, they don’t bother me at all.

Despite my less-than-enthusiastic general opinion of Disney’s live-action films, I found Bedknobs and Broomsticks to provide a moderately entertaining experience. The movie featured a muddled but fun narrative plus some positive performances to create an enjoyable movie. The DVD offers a surprisingly fine picture plus decent sound and a fairly nice complement of extras. Ultimately, Disney fans should be pleased with this solid package.

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

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