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BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS

Review by Alex Haberstroh

Stars:  Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson, Roddy McDowall
Director:  Robert Stevenson
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: 
1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Studio:  Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  139 Minutes
Release Date:  March 20, 2001

“Treguna Mekoides Trecorum, Satis Dee!”

Film ***1/2

After two successful films during the sixties, Mary Poppins (1964), and The Jungle Book (1967), Disney charged into the seventies with their 1971 release of the Bedknobs and Broomsticks.  Unfortunately, B&B, having two hard acts to follow, may have left fans feeling slightly cheated with the latest Disney offering.  Consequently, not given much of a chance to shine on its own merits, the film faded somewhat into obscurity, despite several Oscar nominations for categories like Best Song and even a win for Best Visual Effects (I guess it's too bad Disney didn't have Miramax then, or they could have even bought it Best Picture like in 1998). 

Having grown up watching B&B, a mix of live action and animation similar to Mary Poppins and the now banned, I mean, “non-existent” Song of the South, I was both surprised and overjoyed that Disney was finally bringing the unsung musical classic to DVD in a loaded (well, for Di$ney anyway) thirtieth anniversary edition (I was rather surprised it's already been thirty years since the film's debut, though the recent deaths of Tomlinson of a stroke and Roddy McDowall of cancer reflect the fact).  

The story of B&B centers around a wacky amateur witch in war-torn England named Miss Eglantine Price (Lansbury).  Used to living alone, Miss Price's world is turned upside down after she is put in the care of three young children who are escaping the German bombings in London.  Originally successful in keeping the rambunctious children under her control, it isn't long until they've discovered her secret and have blackmailed her into giving them something for their silence.  Miss Price gives the skeptical children an enchanted bedknob that when twisted onto their bed, will take them wherever they want to go.  However, when Miss Price's last “mail-in witch lesson” doesn't arrive from the great Professor Emelius Brown (Tomlinson) in London, she enlists the help of the children and their bedknob to find her teacher and get the spell she needs.

Overall this film is a charming musical with an original story.  As is almost always the case with Disney, but especially lately, Disney will rewrite a more serious work or event like Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame (which there's a trailer for the sequel for on this DVD, I can just imagine Hugo turning over in his grave) or Pocahontas, and dumb it down with cute animal sidekicks and celebrity voiceovers to the point of sheer idiocy.  Thankfully, the story here is already from a children's book and lends itself more easily to the transition from paper to film without Disney's writers feeling the need to put their politically correct claws into it.

The acting in the film is well done, as David Tomlinson returns again to the live action mixed with animation format that many knew him for in Mary Poppins, in his portrayal of the charming starry-eyed conman Professor Emelius Brown.  Angela Lansbury is fantastic in her role, giving dimension to the character and motivations of the wacky amateur witch Miss Price (although it was weird seeing her in anything since “Murder She Wrote.”) 

Overall, this is a great film that's still entertaining after all these years.  While cynical kids today (whoa, am I referring to people younger than I now as “kids?”) might not care for it, it's certainly far better than that Teletubbie and Barney crap that they watch today.  I mean, seriously, how can you go wrong with Nazis being chased around by bewitched suits of armor carrying claymores?  This is a classic.      

Video ****

Wow!  The Anamorphic transfer is leaps and bounds beyond the faded and horrid VHS edition.  The print looks like it's been washed, resulting in a generally great picture.  While the picture isn't a Toy Story 2, the picture quality really seems to have undergone a transformation that fans of the old movie will recognize.  This is especially the case in scenes with animated characters and the climatic end battle between the Nazis and the bewitched suits of armor that in the previous VHS release look slightly grainy and dark.

All and all, Disney should be proud on the refurbished transfer.  Great job!

Audio ***1/2

While the track is in Dolby Digital 5.1, there are only few moments of activity where the rear speakers really come to life, such as when the lion roars or the score plays.  Generally the sound derives from the center speakers, but occasionally the sound pans across the front soundstage, especially in a lively soccer match where the sound effects are quite impressive.  Overall, the dialogue, music, and sound effects are crisp, clear, and lively throughout.

Supplements ****

As I mentioned before, this disc is not a bad little special edition, and boasts some pretty nice interactive menus as well.  The disc begins with one of the better featurettes I've seen (Gasp! It actually talks about the film's history and isn't just a promotional fluff piece!) called “Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers.”  In the piece, the Sherman brothers, responsible for the songs in B&B, discuss many things, such as the songs that were deleted as well as the overall 20 minutes that had been taken out of the film originally due to time constraints and have once again been put back for this DVD.  As well, they do a great job highlighting the incredible restoration and what went into restoring the old prints. 

Next up is a never before seen brief recording session with David Tomlinson singing “Portobello Road.”  After that is a B&B scrapbook, which includes pictures of the cast, concept art of the animated characters in the film, costumes, many locations such as the “Island of Naboombu,” and finally, posters for the film domestically and internationally.

Also included are some interesting film facts about the movie that are somewhat covered in the featurette, but with some new information, like the armor used in the movie was used previously for the Heston film El Cid. 

Moving to the next page of features, the page begins with a reconstruction of the musical number “A Step in the Right Direction,” with an intro that explains as the Sherman brothers did in the featurette, that over thirty minutes of the film was cut and then put back in for this edition.  Unfortunately, no film could be found, only audio, so the reconstruction begins with the scene where it would have started, and the audio begins to still photographs.  All in all, this is a good attempt by the creators to recreate the experience for the viewer; it's just too bad the footage was lost.

There are also four trailers for B&B, as well as four additional previews for upcoming Disney DVDs (including the highly anticipated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs).  Finally, the disc contains two entertaining animated shorts of Disney cartoons “The Worm Turns,” starring Mickey Mouse and “The Vanishing Private,” starring Donald Duck.  I loved this addition of the animated shorts and hope Disney continues this practice on its other releases.       

Summary:

In conclusion, Disney has really surprised me with this top shelf effort.  With a great restoration job on both audio and video and some knockout supplements, this is a great treasure that is a bargain at $19.99.   B&B should be experienced by a whole new generation of children.  Highly Recommended.