During WWII, Eglantine Price, an apprentice witch, is forced to harbour three orphans while seeking the help of a conman in order to find a spell which will protect the British from the Nazis.
WON an Oscar – Special Visual Effects
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“She don’t fly good, do she?”
While many musicals in the 70s were experimenting with edgy material such as drug trips, ESP, abuse and the Vietnam War, Disney kept their commitment to family entertainment by releasing a musical that was wholesome, safe and fun. Capitalizing on its success with Mary Poppins, Disney released Bedknobs and Broomsticks in 1971 about an apprentice witch who takes in three orphans. Set in the English countryside in 1940, when German forces were threatening to invade, the film explores how a strong woman, three children and a surrogate father-figure can create a family in the midst of loss and danger. And there’s magic. Lots of magic.
Obligated to do her duty to help the war effort, Eglantine Price (the talented Angela Lansbury) reluctantly brings three evacuated orphans to her home she shares with no one. There, she feeds the children cabbage buds, rose hips and elm bark after which they promptly plot their escape. But as they sneak out they look up in the sky and witness the prim Ms. Price riding a broomstick – and failing miserably. Using this information to blackmail her into some decent cooking and extra coin, the children and Ms. Price finally realize that they can work together. With the help of struggling conman magician Emelius Browne (David Tomlinson) and a magical bed knob, the lot set out to find an important spell that will protect England from invading Nazis.
On the island of Naboombu, the pace of the film slows down considerably as the animals partake in a fierce soccer match with Mr. Browne as referee. As the ball gets scuttled back and forth, Disney animators go all out, creating animal characters that twist, fly, laugh and slam into one another. It’s a sequence clearly made for children with a few humourous moments for the adults (the vultures with the stretcher). Although slightly too long, this sequence is energetic and fascinating.
The Portobello Road sequence is also breathtaking for its colour and choreography. In a gorgeous ten minute sequence, dancers move to the sounds of Scottish, Caribbean, East Indian and Irish music, displaying incredible choreography. It’s a huge party in the street. At the end of the film, a long line of magical armor marches to war with a castle in the background and Ms. Price conducting the army atop her broom in the sky. As her magic spell sends the Nazis scurrying back to the sea, Ms. Price finally believes in her abilities as a witch, successfully protecting her home, her country and the children she’s come to regard as her own.
As a family film, the material never gets too serious or dangerous, relegating the Nazis to ‘bad guys’ who are easily stopped. The loss of friends and family is relieved by surrogate parents and a new community. While using real-life, historical events, the film chooses to emphasize fun, family and hope. There are however, a few moments of raw emotion that adults can appreciate. After Mr. Browne leaves, Ms. Price tidies up the kitchen and sings:
“No one to miss if he's gone too long
Angela Lansbury sings this with quiet emotion, reassuring herself while showing how much she truly misses Mr. Browne’s presence. It’s a touching song and scene.
A fumbling witch, three smart kids, a cynical ‘magician’ and talking animals are the perfect recipe for magical mishaps. Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a fun adventure into the world of magic and animation. Quality acting, singing and choreography make this an entertaining musical that is tons of fun for both children and adults.