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  Bedknobs and Broomsticks Pell-Mell Spells
Year: 1971
Director: Robert Stevenson
Stars: Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson, Roddy McDowall, Sam Jaffe, John Ericson, Bruce Forsyth, Cindy O'Callaghan, Roy Snart, Ian Weighill, Tessie O'Shea, Arthur Gould-Porter, Ben Wrigley, Reginald Owen, Cyril Delevanti, Rick Traeger, Lennie Weinrib
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Animated, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: The year is 1940, and the place is the south coast of England which is on high alert thanks to worries over a possible Nazi invasion. In the village of Pepperinge Eye, a group of London children has been evacuated there to keep them out of harm's way since Blitz is going on nightly at the capital, but there are three left: Carrie (Cindy O'Callaghan) and her brothers Paul (Roy Snart) and Charlie (Ian Weighill). They have gone unclaimed until Miss Price (Angela Lansbury) roars down the street on her smoke-belching motorcycle and the supervisor tells her she has no choice, she must take the children in. Something of a problem for a budding witch...

You cannot really discuss Bedknobs and Broomsticks without mentioning another Disney movie, and that was Mary Poppins: for many this was a blatant attempt to cash in with the same market. The magic theme, the combination of live action and animation, the songs by the Sherman Brothers, the largely British cast... you could go on, although in fairness it had been prepared for years, based on Mary Norton's wartime fantasy novels before she hit the big time with her most famous series, The Borrowers. Yet if this was unavoidably in the other film's shadow, did that mean it wasn't worth considering as an entertainment in its own right?

Or was it strictly Disney ripping itself off, and not for the last time? To be honest, once the story began this revealed itself to be indebted to Mary Poppins should you insist on reminding yourself of it, but you could just as easily forget all that and appreciate a chocolate box of a diversions. Not ten minutes would go by without some example of a bright, catchy song or an impressive set of special effects (which won Disney another Oscar for their groaning shelves), and if this had a second hand air, it actually worked in its favour as a period piece of sorts. The plot, if you were following it, portrayed spinster Miss Price and her attempts to complete her correspondence course as a witch.

Except soon after she gets her broom in the mail, for flying on rather than sweeping up with, she also receives a letter in the mail from her Professor telling her the final set of spells which would make her all powerful or whatever have been cancelled, and not only will she not get her certificate, but she doesn't earn a refund either. Fortunately, she has learned enough to turn people into rabbits, and more importantly turn the bed in the makeshift children's room into a vehicle, and so commences a set of effects which look as if the House of Mouse had viewed Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey with envious eyes - seriously, making allowances for the time this was created it was about as trippy as the family-friendly studio got in places.

The Professor is revealed as no academic but a chancer, Emelius (David Tomlinson) who had merely been copying out fancy words from an old book in his possession to make spare cash to fund his dreams of becoming a stage conjurer. Yet Miss Price can attest that those spells really did work, so what is going on? At this point the narrative is growing ever more involved, but you will most likely be captivated by such sights as Bruce Forsyth as a knife-wielding spiv and a scraggy-looking black cat which appears to be auditioning for Pet Semetary, and that's before we are treated to a lengthy cartoon sequence where the loose family unit try to get an amulet for Miss Price's studies from a Lion King. Not Simba, but a football-obsessed monarch which offered up yet another reason why Bedknobs and Broomsticks lent itself so well to being shown on clip shows: you'll likely be familiar with the song about bobbing along on the bottom of the beautiful briny sea without needing to watch the movie. It all ends with the Nazis soundly sent packing, and surprisingly satisfying as a whole it is too.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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