Out of all the aspects of filmmaking that change over time, for audiences, special effects are one of the most notable. Something that is state of the art and truly astounding in one era looks old hat and obviously fake down the road. The 1971 Academy Award winner for Best Effects, Special Visual Effects, Bedknobs and Broomsticks still manages to look pretty good in its new "Enchanted Musical Edition" DVD release.
The film follows the story of an apprentice witch, Miss Price (Angela Lansbury), who, living in Southern England at the outset of World War II is forced to take in three children from London (a practice established in order to protect children from bombings). Carrie (Cindy O'Callaghan), Paul (Roy Snart), and Charlie (Ian Weighill) had no idea upon moving in with Miss Price that she was a witch, but an aborted attempt at flying on a broomstick quickly clues them.
After some aborted attempts at blackmailing Miss Price, the children settle in for a trip to London with her (via a bed) after her witch school shutters without warning – Miss Price desperately wanted to know the last spell that was a part of the course. To make a long movie (the runtime is approximately 140 minutes) short, the correspondence course was being run by a conman, Emelius Browne (David Tomlinson), who shut the school because he didn't have the spell. With the help of the kids though, Browne and Miss Price travel to a magical animated island in an attempt to retrieve it, and eventually manage to stop a mini-Nazi invasion (small invasion, not small Nazis) with the spell.
If one were looking for an easy way to describe the film, perhaps something along the lines of Mary Poppins meets The Sound of Music would be appropriate. It is certainly more the former than the latter, but it does take place during World War II and the Nazis are, as much as anyone, the enemy (even if their appearance at the end of the film does feel terribly out of place). The Mary Poppins aspects are far more prevalent – the film is a mix of live-action and animation, and while Mary Poppins is never classified as a witch, she certainly does have a bit of magic and spell ability about her.
Additionally, not only did Tomlinson appeared in Poppins as Mr. Banks, the father of Mary Poppins' charges, but both films were directed by Robert Stevenson, feature screenplays by Bill Walsh & Don DaGradi, have songs written by the Sherman brothers, and contain several other individuals who worked on both films as well. Some crossover is certainly to be expected as they are both Disney films and the studio utilized the same people on a fairly regular basis, but between the subject matter and combination of live-action and animation, these two films do have a terribly similar feel to them.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a fun movie, with some great songs, good performances (particularly Lansbury and Tomlinson), and excellent for the time (and good today) special effects, but is, in this release, a poorly paced film. The edition of the film included here, which has been digitally remastered, is from the 25th anniversary edition of the film. That edition added more than 20 minutes to the feature's runtime from its original theatrical release and may be the reason for the poor pacing. The film is simply not as enjoyable and lively as it ought to be, mainly because some scenes continue for an excessive period of time.
Despite any shortcomings with its runtime, the release does sport some good extras. The best of them is perhaps a look at how special effects were created for this film and how similar effects are created today. It is perhaps more of a surface look than an in-depth one, but is still informative and interesting. Other special features include theatrical trailers, and several different pieces on the music in the film, from a look at the Sherman brothers to a reconstruction with stills of one of the songs that was cut from the film and a recording session of one of Tomlinson's songs.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a solid live-action Disney film. It never quite reaches the lofty heights of its Poppins predecessor, and the story is a bit scattered (it is never made clear why Miss Price needs the spell so urgently until a series of pure coincidences at the end of the film make the spell relevant), but the songs and special effects help lift the piece above merely average.