Caractacus Potts is a struggling inventor and single father. Upon the request of his two children, he buys and fixes up an old car. When the children’s grandfather is taken hostage by the terrible Baron Bomburst, they all set off to save him with the help of lovely lady Truly Scrumptious and their magical new car.
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“A fantasmagorical machine!”
What fuels a magical car? Why, imagination of course. It’s the essence of this film, driving the characters forward and together. Based on a story by Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame) and written by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang follows the eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts (the wonderful Dick Van Dyke), his two children Jemima (Heather Ripley), Jeremy (Adrian Hall), their off-kilter grandfather (Lionel Jeffries) and Truly Scrumptious as they travel to the dangerous land of Vulgaria to battle the brutal Baron Bomburst.
The film begins with a seven-minute introduction to the 1908 Grand Prix where a car crashes in flames. A few years later two children play in the remains of the car. This is the car of their dreams. Discovered by the stern but sweet Ms. Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes), the children are marched home to their father. But Caractacus Potts isn’t about to listen to a lecture on proper parenting. He’s got a dozen inventions on the go, and he needs to concentrate. An amusing conversation between Caractacus and Truly ends in her storming out as Caractacus shouts instructions on how to drive a car. As he prepares supper for the children, they mention this wonderful car and request it as a present. But the Potts are poor, and thirty shillings is a lot. But through a series of hilarious events, Caractacus discovers his talent for song and dance and earns the money to buy the heap of scrap.
The locations particularly stand out in this film. Filmed in Germany, France and England the film displays gorgeous aerial shots of roads, beaches, the sea and meadows. The camera swirls around the car at sea, flies high in the air and dips low to catch Van Dyke’s fancy footwork, giving the feeling that this adventure is indeed expansive, taking the audience through many different locations.
Performances are highly energized, catering to the children in the audience. The spies are ridiculously silly, slap-sticking their way through scenes. Grandpa Potts is cheeky and amusing, making the audience root for his escape. Caractacus and Truly are the right mix of silly, protective, fun and nurturing. Dick Van Dyke brings his genius to the screen with his sweet, goofy acting. Twisting and spinning his body while singing a jaunty tune in “Me Ol’Bam-Boo” is just amazing to watch. Sally Ann Howes is perfection in her “Doll on a Music Box” number, singing a lovely song while ticking away as a life-sized doll.
And when the awful Baron Bomburst and his snooty Baroness are finally defeated by the children of Vulgaria, all is well and the story ends with much celebration. Back on the beach, the children propose a new story: Caractacus and Truly shall get married. It takes the adults a few awkward moments to catch up and finally, a new family is created at Chitty flies Caractacus and Truly past the sun-setting sky.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a great family film, also giving the adults many moments of amusement. Dick Van Dyke steals the show with his charm and talent, making this an adventure that can be experienced again and again.