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THE BLUE BIRD, 1940
Movie Review

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THE BLUE BIRD, MOVIE POSTERTHE BLUE BIRD, 1940
Movie Reviews

Directed by Walter Lang
Starring: Shirley Temple, Spring Byington, Nigel Bruce, Gale Sondergaard, Eddie Collins, Sybil Jason, Jessie Ralph
Review by Amanda Cleveland


SYNOPSIS:

Mytyl and her brother Tyltyl, a woodchopper's children, are led by the Fairy Berylune on a magical trip through the past, present, and future to locate the Blue Bird of Happiness.

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REVIEW:

The Blue Bird (French: L'Oiseau bleu) is a 1908 French play by Belgian playwright, Maurice Maeterlinck. This story has been made into several films, a TV series and an opera (French composer Albert Wolff). The Blue Bird (1940) starring Shirley Temple is the third remake and the first one to be non-silent. The Blue Bird was Twentieth Century Fox’s version to the MGM’s Wizard of Oz (1939).

The Blue Bird directed by Walter Lang, is a fairy-tale, similar to the Wizard of Oz and Hansel and Gretel stories. It is about Mytyl (Shirley Temple) and Tyltyl (Johnny Russell), children of a woodchopper (Russell Hicks), who has been summoned to war. The children journey through the past, present, and future to seek the Blue Bird of happiness to solve all their problems. Without a doubt, The Blue Bird lacks the great songs and Hollywood charm, but its theme is much more serious with a valuable message about life.

The film begins with Mytyl and Tyltyl catching a rare brown bird in the forest. Mytyl selfishly declines to give the bird to her ailing friend, Angela Berlingot (Sybil Jason). At dinner, Mytyl shows more of her self-centered side when she complains about being poor and wishes that she had candy and pretty dresses. This is quite a different character for Shirley Temple, who had always been the curly haired, bright-eyed sweetheart of cinema. Later, Mytyl apologizes for her behavior to her mother (Spring Byington), who reminds her that she complains constantly about being poor. Part of the valuable message in the film is in this same scene when Mytyl realizes she complains everyday. Her mother tells her that she needs to find out why or she’ll always be unhappy. This leads to Mytyl dreaming about a Fairy Berylume (Jessie Ralph) that tells her and Tyltyl to find the Blue Bird if they want to be happy. Just like in the Wizard of Oz, the movie starts out in black and white and then changes to color just before the children embark on their adventure.

Joining Mytyl and Tyltyl on the search are the children's pets, Tylette the cat (Gale Sondergaard) and the dog Tylo (Eddie Collins), who have been magically transformed into human beings. The Fairy Berylume gives them Light (Helen Ericsonas), a lantern altered into a woman, as a guide. Ericsonas is very gentle and beautiful as she leads the children into the “past,” which is a graveyard. The “past” is in the Land of Memory, showing Mytyl and Tyltyl their deceased grandparents. This produces another vital message in the film; the grandparents remind the children that even though they’re dead, they're never truly gone because we carry them in our memory. The Blue Bird is not in the past and the children continue their journey.

Gale Sondergaard is amusingly devious as the children's villainess cat, Tylette. Her mannerisms really do resemble a cat; the way she walks, glances about, and lounges around. Along the way Tylette’s agenda is to escape thus staying in human form. She disrupts the Mytyl and Tyltyl’s journey by enticing them to go to the Land of Luxury, that is run by Mr. and Mrs. Luxury (Nigel Bruce and Laura Hope Crews). The children are ready to leave the Land of Luxury after realizing that all the riches cannot make them happy, but Tylette “innocently” knocks over a statue to wake the household. Having to flee abruptly, the children carry on their journey for the Blue Bird. While the children rest, Tylette ventures out into the forest and advises the trees to scare them into leaving. The trees unite with fire and wind and in the frightening storm of nature, Tylette dies while the children escape.

The memorable part of the film is the children arriving at the Kingdom of the Future. Mytyl and Tyltyl find a mass of children in a “Roman-like bath house” heaven. The children are “unborn” and waiting for Father Time (Thurston Hall) to transport them to Earth on his sailing ship. The scenes in Kingdom of the Future are truly emotional from Mytyl and Tyltyl meeting their unborn sister (Ann Todd), to the two lovers (Tommy Baker and Dorothy Joyce) being torn apart because one of them is going to be born. In addition, the scenes with the little girl who has waited a very long time for parents and the young boy who dreams of everyone to be free (unborn Abe Lincoln).

Mytyl and Tyltyl return home without finding the Blue Bird. The children awake and learn that a truce has been declared, and their father does not have to go to war. The brown bird Mytyl and Tyltyl captured in the beginning of the film turned blue, hence the message that “happiness” was at home the whole time. The plot is imaginative and entertaining; it teaches us to be happy with what we have.

Shirley Temple was considered for the role of Dorothy Gale in the Wizard of Oz, but Fox wouldn’t release Temple from her contract to make the film. Gale Sondergaard, who plays Tylette the Cat in The Blue Bird, was originally cast as the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz, but eventually the role went to Margaret Hamilton. Despite the bad reviews by critics and a Box Office flop, The Blue Bird over time has become a classic film of it's time with a fascinating performance by Temple. Overall, the film is entertaining and colorful. The Blue Bird received two Academy Award nominations in the categories Cinematography (Color) and Special Effects (Photographic Effects, Fred Sersen, Sound Effects, E. H. Hansen).

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