Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a 1971 film directed by Robert Stevenson (and by Ward Kimball in his animated parts). It’s clearly a Disney production, it’s a close relative of Mary Poppins (1964) with whom it shares, among other things, the director, the mix of live action and animation, its musical nature, and also one of the main actors (David Tomlinson).
This is one of the films I grew up with, I think it was every other day on TV when I was a child, and I was amazed to find out that I still remember some songs thirty years after the last viewing (obviously in their Italian versions).
The plot in two words is as follows. United Kingdom, 1940. Miss Price (Angela Lansbury) wants to be useful for her country in the war against the Nazis and enrolls in a witches’ course. After a while, she’s already able to cast several spells. But she has a very bad memory, so she must write down all the magic words! One day, she’s entrusted with three London boys fleeing the Nazi bombings (Cindy O’Callaghan, Roy Snart and Ian Weighill). They quickly discover her secret by seeing her fly on a broom and together they go in search of Professor Emelius Browne (David Tomlinson) to complete the course which was apparently interrupted due to the war. A series of adventures follows, culminating in a fight with some Nazis who landed in England!
If this sounds like a spoiler, don’t blame me: the opening credits already reveal all of this with some gorgeous medieval-style animation. And, in any case, the plot is not exactly the strong point of the film, far from it! The story progresses in a clunky way and the many musical numbers don’t help, taking place in a world halfway between the real one and a fantasy one which is animated and populated by animals that speak both underwater and out of it. Fortunately (or unfortunately, you decide), many of the songs are catchy (you’ll never forget Portobello Road!), and the special effects are still remarkable to see, it’s cool that they were even awarded an Oscar.
In fact, the technique invented for this film, the sodium screen vapor process, is the ancestor of the green screen that is now used in virtually every film that has a minimum amount of special effects! The animated sequences were mostly recycled from The Jungle Books (1967), with the various bears, lions and elephants that later reappeared also in Robin Hood (1973), but this doesn’t detract from a film that presents a fantasy world with a truly unique atmosphere. Of course, some things are a bit simplistic, such as the underwater scenes that look almost naive today, but of course the technology of the time didn’t allow anything more sophisticated.
The football match deserves to be praised, and it’s strange that an American product, even if set in England, opted to devote so much time to a sport which isn’t at all popular in the US!
I conclude by saying that I haven’t seen the extended version of the film and I found two hours more than enough. In fact, the story already feels too long before reaching the spectacular finale. In any case, rewatching this film was a pleasant blast from the past that brought to mind almost forgotten feelings that I was very happy to rediscover. Ciao!