Tyltyl (Todd Lookinland) and his sister Mytyl (Patsy Kensit) are hurrying home one evening, over the bridge and through the forest, while their mother (Elizabeth Taylor) frets. When the children do eventually arrive home, she is furious and sends them to bed without any supper, especially when she finds out they have been on the bridge, something she expressly told them not to do for fear they fall into the water below and drown. However, after the children are tucked up in bed, she relents and brings them food, but they have fallen asleep. And as they slumber, a strange vision comes to them... something to do with a blue bird.
Although exactly the significance of the blue bird of the title is something of a mystery in this muddle of a children's film. If it is recalled at all today, it is because of it's notoriety of being one of the biggest flops of the seventies, an even bigger disaster than the Shirley Temple version of the forties, which is a shame, as it started with such good intentions. That was because it was the first ever film collaboration between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - it was the Commies and the Imperialist Running Dogs proving that they could set aside their differences and work in harmony.
Of course, it was nothing of the sort, with the language barrier well nigh insurmountable for a start. The producers cast a selection of stars and secured the services of the much-respected George Cukor to direct, although his prestige had slid in recent years after a lack of hits, but the project was blighted by a host of mishaps, so much so that it seemed as if it might never end, never mind be finished. It appears just about everyone fell out with everyone else, and to add insult to injury when it was finally cobbled together and unleashed on an unsuspecting world, nobody was interested in what amounted to a tacky Wizard of Oz wannabe.
And yet, as with so many flop children's movies, you can practically guarantee there will be some youngsters who respond to it and some adults who fell in love with the film as children and still think fondly of it as grown-ups. So it is with The Blue Bird, which even though it is not available in the West, still enjoys a cult reputation. Is this affection some hold down to nostalgia dulling the critical faculties? Or is there something of quality that emerged from this whole morass after all? Watching without the warm glow of rememberance of times past, this film is at least able to be followed, but as it is episodic it's difficult to see the point of each part, as the children are moved around from one guest star to another, from one gaudy set to another.
Taylor does not only play the mother, she also plays an old witch who gives Tyltyl a hat with a special diamond on it, with which he can create magic. This amounts to making far too many supporting characters out of household objects and pets, so for example the fire in the hearth and the water in the bowl are transformed into interpretive dancers, and the cat is turned into Cicely Tyson in a leotard while the dog becomes George Cole of all people, who has a keenness for licking faces in an uncomfortable development. Taylor then appears as her main character, the Queen of Light, and takes the children and their new companions on a quest to find the creature of the title; as it turns out the birds they do discover are somewhat less-than-magical pigeons dyed blue. As a novelty of seeing all these famous faces all at sea - Jane Fonda turns up too in a huge black dress - then this has some value, but it's a pretty bleak entertainment leaving the viewer with confused messages. Music by Irwin Kostal and Andrei Petrov.