[AMAZONPRODUCTS asin=”B00K5ZXKFM”]Released in by Disney 1971, Bedknobs and Broomsticks has long been considered by many to be the evil stepsister of 1964’s Mary Poppins. While the similarities are impossible to ignore, Bedknobs and Broomsticks deserves more respect than it receives in many cinema circles. Based on the books The Magic Bed Knob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons and Bonfires and Broomsticks by Mary Norton, the musical combines live action and animation and was directed by Robert Stevenson who had directed Mary Poppins and would helm a total of nineteen Disney films in his long career.
Set in England 1940, as the citizens of Pepperinge Eye fear an invasion by Nazis and do their part to defend the nation, three young orphan’s need a home to which they can evacuate. “Apprentice witch” Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury) finds herself forced to take them in—siblings Carrie (Cindy O’Callaghan), Paul (Roy Snart), and Charlie (Ian Weighill). On their first night at Ms. Price’s home, the children find their new caretaker airborne on a broomstick. Soon the truth becomes clear; Ms. Price is secretly taking a correspondence course on how to become a witch.
At the moment, Eglantine’s powers are limited to temporarily turning people into rabbits. But, a twist of a bedknob psychedelically sends her and the kids off to London. There, they find Eglantine’s teacher, Emelius Browne (David Tomlinson), who closed down his school before revealing a very important spell. Shocked to learn that any of his magic actually works, Browne takes his four visitors to the book he’s been copying from, that of a real magician named Astoroth. Browne ends up tagging along as the group go in search of the other half of the “magical spell book.” In the midst of all this, the gang ends up on a magical cartoon island where fish can talk and they can breathe underwater. Miss Price and Mr. Browne win first prize in an underwater dance contest but a giant fishhook pulls the bed and the humans out of the water, among other things.
In truth, it’s nearly impossible to truncate the 140-minute long, plot-thick narrative of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. There’s often several things going on at once, with interesting twists and turns around every corner.
While the animation looks dated when compared to the CG effects of today, Disney did a fabulous job with the visual effects. The combination of live action and animation is pretty stunning for 1971. Without the aid of the myriad of animation programs we have today, I’m sure a lot of pain staking work went into the human/animation interaction scenes. Amazingly though, there are only a few green screen shots that are obvious to the keen viewer.
The musical numbers are sweet and well chosen and the characters are a lot of fun, particularly Lansbury’s Price. Lansbury appears to be having a ball playing the quirky, misguided lead. Heaven knows, the legendary actress knows her way around a musical.
If there’s one complaint to levy against Bedknobs and Broomsticks, it’s that it runs too long. The filmmakers could have cut 20-30 minutes out of the film and still effectively told the story. The overly long soccer match is one place that easily could have been shortened. Despite that, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a delightful film that has finally been given a much deserved high-definition upgrade.
Presented in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, Disney has offered up a beautiful 1080p transfer. Sharpness is top-notch and colors are rich and vivid. Skin tones look realistic. Contrast is occasionally a bit overdone (England is really foggy) but it hardly disturbs the viewing experience. Black levels are very good.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix works well with the Oscar nominated score, even though sound effects don’t receive a particularly wide resonance. Dialogue and song lyrics have been expertly recorded and have been placed in the center channel.
English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers (SD, 20:42) This extra was originally prepared for the 2009 DVD release, so don’t be confused when the Sherman Brothers, Angela Lansbury praise the newly reconstructed version of the film present on the disc. The longer version of the film is not present on this Blu-ray release. Beyond that, the Sherman Brothers discuss how the project’s seeds were planted when P.L. Travers had second thoughts about Mary Poppins as a film. They also touch on production, with respect to specific Bedknobs songs.
- Deleted and Extended Songs (HD, 23:54) five song sequences either cut completely or in part are presented here: “A Step in the Right Direction” reconstruction (3:09), “With a Flair” (4:18), “Eglantine” (3:42), “Portobello Road” (10:50), “Nobody’s Problems” (1:23).
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (HD, 10:06) The eight sequences may be watched in montage or individually.
- “Portobello Road” (SD, 1:10) David Tomlinson sings a verse of the song in a recording session.
- Song Selection (20:40, HD) The film’s six song sequences may be watched individually or together and with or without sing along song lyrics.
- The Wizards of Special Effects (SD, 7:30) Hosted by Jennifer Stone of The Wizards of Waverly Place, the actress explains how the sodium vapor screen process used on Bedknobs differs from the green screen effects of Waverly Place. Skip it.
- Theatrical Trailers: There are four in all.
- DVD/Digital Copy: disc and code sheet are enclosed in the case.