Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. We have done all the animated films so now we are moving on to the live-action and partially-animated films. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”
Title: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Source materials : The Magic Bedknob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons and Bonfires and Broomsticks by Mary Norton
Budget: $6.3 million
Box office: $37.9 million
Plot: During the Blitz, Charlie, Carrie, and Paul are evacuated from London to Pepperinge Eye, where they are placed in the care of Miss Eglantine Price, who agrees to the arrangement temporarily. The three children attempt to run back to London, but after observing Miss Price attempting to fly on a broomstick, they change their minds.
Miss Price reveals she is learning witchcraft through a correspondence school with hopes of using her spells in the British war effort, and offers the children a transportation spell in exchange for their silence. She casts the spell on a bedknob, and adds only Paul can work the spell, since he’s the one who handed it to her.
Later, Miss Price receives a letter from her school announcing its closure, thus preventing her from learning the final spell. She convinces Paul to use the enchanted bed to return the group to London, and locate Professor Emelius Browne. They discover Browne is actually a charismatic showman who created the course from an old book, and is surprised to learn the spells actually work for Miss Price. He gives the book to Miss Price, who is distraught to discover the final spell, “Substitutiary Locomotion,” is missing.
The group travels to Portobello Road to locate the rest of the book. They are approached by Swinburne, who takes them to the Bookman, who possesses the remainder of the book. They exchange their pieces, but learn only the spell was inscribed on a medallion, the Star of Astaroth, that belonged to a sorcerer of that name. The Bookman reveals the medallion may have been taken by a pack of wild animals, given anthropomorphism by Astaroth, to a remote island called Naboombu.
It was said in the 17th century, a lascar claimed he saw Naboombu. The Bookman, however, does not believe the island exists, as he looked in every chart for it, until Paul confirms its existence via a storybook.
The group fly on the bed, and land in the Island of Naboombu’s lagoon; there, the bed goes underwater, where Mr. Browne and Miss Price enter a dance contest, and win first prize. Just then, the bed is fished out of the sea by a bear, who tells the five there is “No Peopling Allowed”. They are brought before King Leonidas, who rules the island. He is wearing the Star of Astaroth, then invites Mr. Browne to act as a referee in a soccer game.
The chaotic match ends in Leonidas’ self-proclaimed victory, but Mr. Browne cleverly swaps the medallion with his referee whistle as he leaves. Upon examining the Star, Miss Price finds the missing spell for Substitutiary Locomotion. When he discovers the theft, Leonidas pursues the travelers, but Miss Price transforms him into a white rabbit, and the five escape.
Back home, Miss Price prepares to try out the spell, but the Star has vanished back into the fantasy world of Naboombu. Paul reveals the spell was actually in his storybook the whole time. Miss Price attempts the spell on Mr. Browne’s shoes; while the spell works, and imbues the shoes with life, she finds she inadvertently brought other items throughout the house to life as well, and has difficultly controlling them. Mrs. Hobday informs Miss Price the children can be relocated with another family, but Miss Price wants them to stay. Mr. Browne is leery of commitment, and when the children refer to him as a father figure, he attempts to return to London.
A platoon of Nazi commandos land on the coast, and invade Miss Price’s house, imprisoning her and the children in the local museum. After observing more Nazis disabling phone lines, Mr. Browne comes to the rescue, inspiring Miss Price to use “Substitutiary Locomotion” to enchant the museum’s exhibits into an army.
The army of knights’ armour and military uniforms chase the Nazis away, but as the Nazis retreat, they destroy Miss Price’s workshop, ending her career as a witch. Though disappointed her career is over, she is happy she played a small part in the war effort. Mr. Browne enlists in the army, and departs with the local Home Guard escorting him, while Paul reveals he still has the enchanted bedknob, hinting they can continue on with their adventures.
Background: During the negotiations for the film rights to Mary Poppins with P.L. Travers in 1961, a film adaptation of Bedknobs and Broomsticks was suggested as an alternative project. When the negotiations stalled, Disney instructed the Sherman brothers to begin working on the project. When Disney purchased the rights to Mary Poppins, the project was shelved. Although there was no plan to put the film into production at the time, Walsh promised the Shermans that he would call them back to the studio and finish the project, which he eventually did in November 1969. Throughout 1970 and 1971, the Sherman brothers reworked their musical compositions for the film.
Filming took place at the Disney studios in Burbank, California from early March to June 10, 1970. Additional scenes were shot on location in Corfe Castle in Dorset, England, and the coastal scenes featuring Nazi soldiers were also shot on location at a nearby California beach. Filming lasted fifty-seven days while the animation and special effects required five months each to complete.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks had an original runtime of 141 minutes, and was scheduled to premiere at the Radio City Music Hall. However, in order to accommodate for the theater’s elaborate stage show, the film had to be trimmed down to two hours, in which 23 minutes were ultimately removed from the film. The removed scenes included a minor subplot involving Roddy McDowall’s character (which was reduced to one minute) and three entire musical sequences titled “A Step in the Right Direction”, “With a Flair”, and “Nobody’s Problems”. The “Portobello Road” sequence was reduced from about ten minutes down to three. The film was restored in 1996 for its 25th Anniversary.
Animation: For the Naboombu soccer sequence, the sodium vapor process was used, which was developed by Petro Vlahos in the 1960s. Animator and director Ward Kimball served as the animation director over the sequence. Directing animator Milt Kahl had designed the characters, but he was angered over the inconsistencies in the character animation. This prompted Kimball to send a memo dated on September 17, 1970 to adhere to animation cohesiveness to the animation staff.
Songs: The musical score for Bedknobs and Broomsticks was composed by Irwin Kostal, with all songs written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.
- “The Old Home Guard”
- “The Age of Not Believing” 1
- “With a Flair” 2
- “Don’t Let Me Down” 3
- “Portobello Road”
- “The Beautiful Briny” 4
- “Substitutiary Locomotion”
- “A Step in the Right Direction”
- “Nobody’s Problems” 5
- “Solid Citizen” (replaced by the soccer match)
- “Fundamental Element” (sections were incorporated into “Don’t Let Me Down”)
Cast: Angela Lansbury returns as Eglantine Price. 6 David Tomlinson returns as Mr. Emelius Browne. 7 Roddy McDowall 8 returns as Mr. Rowan Jelk. Dallas McKennon returns as the voice of Bear. Reginald Owen returns as Major General Sir Brian Teagler, in his final film role.
Ian Weighill as Charles “Charlie” Rawlins. He had an uncredited role in David Copperfield. Cindy O’Callaghan as Carrie Rawlins. She has appeared in numerous television programs including The Bill, Casualty, Specials, Boon, Rumpole of the Bailey, Woof! and Triangle. She has appeared in films, including Hanover Street and I.D. She is known for her role as Andrea Price on the soap opera EastEnders. Roy Snart as Paul Rawlins. Prior to Bedknobs, Snart was a child actor appearing in numerous commercials.
Sam Jaffe as the Bookman. In 1951, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Asphalt Jungle and appeared in other classic films such as Ben-Hur and The Day the Earth Stood Still. He is also remembered for other outstanding performances such as the title role in Gunga Din and the High Lama in Lost Horizon. Sir Bruce Forsyth as Swinburne. Forsyth started his live public performances aged 14, with a song, dance and accordion act called “Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom”. Hewent on to host several game shows, including The Generation Game, Play Your Cards Right, The Price Is Right and You Bet!. He co-presented Strictly Come Dancing from 2004 to 2013.
Tessie O’Shea as Mrs. Jessica “Jessie” Hobday. She was a popular sjnger and banjo player In 1963, Noël Coward created the part of the fish and chips peddler “Ada Cockle” specifically for O’Shea in his Broadway musical, The Girl Who Came to Supper. She won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. In 1963, O’Shea was a guest on The Ed Sullivan Show. She was popular enough that she came back in 1964 and shared the billing with the Beatles on their legendary performance. Films include London Town, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, and The Blue Lamp. John Ericson as Colonel Heller. He appeared in several films including Rhapsody, The Student Prince, Green Fire, Bad Day at Black Rock, Forty Guns, Pretty Boy Floyd, Under Ten Flags, Slave Queen of Babylon, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, Operation Atlantis, The Money Jungle, The Bamboo Saucer, Crash!, and The Far Side of Jericho.
Lennie Weinrib as King Leonidas and Secretary Bird. He is best known for playing the title role in the children’s television show H.R. Pufnstuf, Grimace in McDonaldland Commercials, the title role in Inch High, Private Eye, the original voice of Scrappy-Doo on Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo , Hunk and Prince Lotor on Voltron, and Bigmouth on The Smurfs. He made guest appearances on The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Burke’s Law, The Munsters, Happy Days and Adam-12. Bob Holt as Codfish. He provided the voices for several animated television specials with Dr. Seuss, and the animated film version of Charlotte’s Web. 1975, he was the voice of Grape Ape on The New Tom and Jerry Show. The same year, Holt provided the voice of Avatar in Ralph Bakshi’s film Wizards.
- Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that the film is a “tricky, cheerful, aggressively friendly Walt Disney fantasy for children who still find enchantment for pop-up books, plush animals by Steiff and dreams of independent flight.” He further highlighted the Naboombu live-action/animated sequence as “the best of Disney, going back all the way to the first Silly Symphonies.”
- Variety also praised the Naboombu sequence as “not only sheer delights but technical masterpieces.”
- Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film two-and-a-half stars out of four, and claimed while the film has the “same technical skill and professional polish” as Mary Poppins, “[i]t doesn’t have much of a heart, though, and toward the end you wonder why the Poppins team thought kids would like it much.”
- Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave it two stars out of four and called it “a mishmash of story ideas and film styles,” adding, “The difference between scenes of sea horses and storm troopers is so great that probably no story could manage it. ‘Bedknobs’ tries and fails.”
Legacy: For the 44th Academy Awards, the film was nominated for five Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Scoring, Best Costume Design, Best Original Song, and Best Visual Effects, in which the film won the latter award.
In March 2018, it was announced a stage musical adaptation of Bedknobs and Broomsticks was in the works with a book by Brian Hill, additional musical and lyrics by Neil Bartram (in addition to The Sherman Brothers songs), and was to be directed and choreographed by Rachel Rockwell. It will make its world premiere at The Yard at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater from May 30 to July 28, 2019. 9
My take: It’s a fun show. The songs are catchy. The Portobello Road sequence is not well cut, and one can easily tell that it’s pared down from the original version, which is a shame because it’s the only real dancing we see in the film. I am not sure I quite buy Lansbury and Tomlinson as romantic partners.
The Blu Ray release has the deleted songs and scenes, and I have to say that cutting them was a real shame. “Step in the Right Direction” is rather catchy. “With a Flair” is a great character moment for Tomlinson. The cuts to “Portobello Road” removed some of the best dancing in the film! “Nobody’s Problem” would have better established the relationship between Price and Brown as it’s the type of “I’m not in love” love song.
Next Week: Escape to Witch Mountain