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Bedknobs and Broomsticks: Enchanted Musical Edition DVD Review

Bedknobs and Broomsticks movie poster Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Theatrical Release: November 11, 1971 / Running Time: 139 Minutes (25th Anniversary cut) / Rating: G

Director: Robert Stevenson / Writers: Bill Walsh, Don DaGradi (screenplay); Mary Norton (book)

Cast: Angela Lansbury (Miss Eglantine Price), David Tomlinson (Professor Emelius Browne), Roddy McDowall (Mr. Jelk), Sam Jaffe (Bookman), John Ericson (Col. Heller), Bruce Forsyth (Swinburne), Cindy O'Callaghan (Carrie Rawlins), Roy Snart (Paul Rawlins), Ian Weighill (Charlie Rawlins), Tessie O'Shea (Mrs. Hobday), Arthur E. Gould-Porter (Capt. Greer), Ben Wrigley (Portobello Rd. Workman), Reginald Owen (Gen. Teagler), Cyril Delevanti (Elderly Farmer), Rick Traeger (German Sergeant), Manfred Lating (German Sergeant), John Orchard (Vendor), Robert Holt (voice of Codfish), Lennie Weinrib (voice of Secretary Bird, King Leonidas the Lion), Dal McKennon (voice of Fisherman Bear)

Songs: "The Old Home Guard", "The Age of Not Believing", "With a Flair", "Eglantine", "Don't Let Me Down", "Portobello Road", "The Beautiful Briny", "Substitutiary Locomotion", "Nobody's Problems For Me"

Buy Bedknobs and Broomsticks: Enchanted Musical Edition DVD from Amazon.com


Walt Disney left behind no master plan for how his company should run with him out of the picture. So, when he passed away just two weeks after turning 65, his staff could really only look at his life and life's work for guidance as to what would be fit to posthumously carry his name. For about the next dozen years, the Disney studio played things safe, seeing through projects initiated under Walt's watch and starting new ones that looked and felt similar to past creations. Even the youngest and least versed 1971 moviegoer had to notice that Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the big Disney movie for that year's holiday season, bore a great resemblance to a previous Disney movie.
How could they not draw comparisons to Mary Poppins, Walt's biggest and most decorated live-action production, released just seven years earlier?

The similarities dogged Bedknobs upon release and 38 years later, they still do. Such is the price for Disney choosing to adapt a British children's book into an ambitious period musical fantasy with precocious children, a central sequence set in an animated world, songs by Richard and Robert Sherman, a screenplay by Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi, direction by Robert Stevenson, a theatrically accomplished leading lady, a leading role played by David Tomlinson, music supervision by Irwin Kostal, Peter Ellenshaw visuals, Cotton Warburton editing, Bill Thomas costuming, Gausman & Kuri set decoration, and La Rue Matheron hair styling. Twice. That's right; everything I've just said applies to both Poppins and Bedknobs, leading one to conclude rather than just containing some striking similarities, the latter film was deliberately modeled after the earlier hit. (In fact, Bedknobs was first conceived as a contingency plan should Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers back out of approving Disney's adaptation.) And since almost all agree that Poppins is superior and its success is definitively so, Bedknobs has the reputation of being a second-rate work.

I won't argue that Bedknobs doesn't deserve its stigma or that it's better than Mary Poppins. But you have to concede if you're going to pattern your picture after a live-action Walt Disney movie, why not pick (arguably) the best one of all?

Angela Lansbury soars as apprentice witch Eglantine Price in Disney's "Bedknobs and Broomsticks." Charlie (Ian Weighill), Carrie (Cindy O'Callaghan), and Paul (Roy Snart) are the three homeless Cockney waifs who move in with Miss Price per WWII evacuations. Here, Charlie taps the bedknob to make the bed magically go.

Bedknobs is set in 1940 England. While citizens of Pepperinge Eye fear an invasion by Nazis and do their part to defend the nation, three young orphans need a home to which they can evacuate. Enter Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury), a spinster who reluctantly takes in the siblings Carrie (Cindy O'Callaghan), Paul (Roy Snart), and Charlie (Ian Weighill). On their first night together, the children notice their new caretaker airborne with a broomstick. Soon, they learn the truth: Miss Price has been taking a correspondence class and fancies herself an apprentice witch.

For now, 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 professor, sidewalk illusionist and general con man Emelius Browne (David Tomlinson), who closed down his school before revealing an all-important spell. Surprised to learn that any of his magic was effective, Professor Browne leads his four guests to the old book he's been plagiarizing. When it is discovered to be incomplete, the group heads to Naboombu, the lost (animated) island of talking animals and underwater ballrooms, in search of the five words that can unlock the crucial substitutiary locomotion spell.

While Eglantine and company are off on exciting journeys, opposition develops in the form of a bookman (Sam Jaffe) looking for the same elusive spell and a priest (Roddy McDowall, underused) wanting to acquire Eglantine's land. Such foes are of minor concern and are long forgotten by the time the real villains (Nazi soldiers) arrive for a climactic comeuppance.

David Tomlinson, best known as "Mary Poppins" paterfamilias George Banks, assumes leading man status here as sham London illusionist Emelius Browne. The enchanted bed settles to the ocean floor, allowing the group to enjoy Naboombu fish's ballroom dancing.

While the majority of movies, especially those predating the home video age, exist in one definitive cut, Bedknobs does not. At its British premiere in October of 1971, the film supposedly ran around 2 hours long. One month later, when it opened in New York, the film had been considerably trimmed, now clocking in three minutes shy of 2 hours. This 117-minute cut was the Bedknobs that everyone came to know, at least until 1979 when an even shorter cut of 98 minutes was used for a theatrical reissue. In 1996, for the film's 25th anniversary edition laserdisc, Disney went back and tried to reconstruct the film's lengthy original cut.
Some of the deleted footage was either lost or in need of work and a fair amount of dialogue had to be re-recorded. But Disney arrived at a presentation running 139 minutes with new restoration credits. This was the version used on the movie's first DVD release (2001's 30th Anniversary Edition). It is used again on next week's new DVD, the dopily-titled Enchanted Musical Edition.

I'm not sure that the restorations do the movie any favor. Oh, it is surely a treat to see songs and footage shot and edited for the film (how many other pre-DVD age Disney flicks have given us any?). But besides introducing picture and sound inconsistencies, the reinserted sequences also appear to wreak havoc on the movie's pacing. "Portobello Road", the fun musical number set in London's incomparable antiques marketplace area, is probably the film's best song. Here, its joys are tempered by minutes and minutes of cultural dances that move the film nowhere and feel quite out of place. The climax, in which Eglantine enchants museum war gear, runs far too long as well. With the couple of tunes that are undeleted, the total song count becomes nine, a lot for viewers with no specific liking for the genre.

The reason that the places in which Bedknobs drags gain notice is because the film is quite sharp and satisfying in most other spots. The visit to Naboombu, which finds Professor Browne officiating an anything-goes soccer match for a lion king, delights. The experiments with witchcraft divert, as do many of the interactions born out of the makeshift family and out of Eglantine and Emelius' eccentric, underplayed romance. The highlights may be easy to appreciate and identify spread out, but the film as a whole would play much better without slow, saggy bits. At the very least, the studio ought to give viewers the choice to experience Bedknobs and Broomsticks as it was in its original theatrical run and the next 25 years. Disney has not. And though it seems illogical to want less than what's given, I feel like Bedknobs would benefit from having scissors taken to it in the right (i.e. wrong) places.

Even acknowledging the lulls and patchwork, Bedknobs still qualifies as a winning production, and all the more so when we can put Mary Poppins out of our mind. Lansbury is a charismatic star, Tomlinson is appropriately goofy in his turn, and the kids are responsible for some of the wittiest moments. The historical fiction narrative stands on its own with content that remains interesting and fanciful today. Though far from their best Disney output, the Shermans' songs (some of their last for a Disney feature film) hit plenty of right notes. The Oscar-winning visual effects largely hold up and the film's direction and design absolutely enhance the experience. It's true that in none of these areas does Bedknobs exceed Poppins. But on its own merits, the film is sufficiently charming and enjoyable.

This second DVD edition of Bedknobs and Broomsticks retains the blue Disney castle logo of the '80s and '90s, anachronistic if we're aspiring to the original intended release but not if we recognize this restoration as coming from the middle of the 1990s. The logo music has now been silenced.

Buy Bedknobs and Broomsticks: Enchanted Musical Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: September 8, 2009
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase in Embossed, Holographic Cardboard Slipcover
Official Shop of Warner Bros

VIDEO and AUDIO

As on its first DVD release, Bedknobs and Broomsticks appears in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen here and looks pretty good most of the time. A few reinsertions to the Portobello Road sequence stand out for their grain and color problems. Some basic digital artifacts turn up on occasion too, perhaps on other restored scenes. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is not faithful to the film's monaural debut, but it doesn't feel like a tremendous betrayal. Music is given room to breathe, without trampling on concurrent dialog and effects. The issue most likely to concern is the dubbing of characters performed by Disney's '90s stable of voice actors. Only once in a while do looped lines by Professor Browne and shopkeeper Mrs. Hobday take you out from the film's reality, but that's still more than what an ideal presentation would.

The case proclaims that film has been fully restored and remastered, but that would appear to just repeat the old edition's information. As has been true of most of this year's Disney reissues, comparisons revealed no difference in picture and sound between this DVD and the previous one.

Jennifer Stone excitedly stands before an unfilled green screen to discuss visual effects of "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" and her Disney Channel show "Wizards of Waverly Place." Richard Sherman sings and plays bits of "Bedknobs" songs used and unused in the unfortunately shortened TV special "Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers." A scroll in the style of the opening credits prepares you for the blend of Angela Lansbury audio and photographs that follow.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The first of six bonus features listings and the only one to merit a sticker on the front cover is "The Wizards of Special Effects", a new featurette that, both sticker and menu are excited to declare, is hosted by "Wizards of Waverly Place" actress Jennifer Stone.
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This will not ease reservations anyone holds about Disney Channel programming. Ms. Stone talks fast and ditzily as we learn how the sodium vapor screen process used on Bedknobs differs from the green screen effects of "Waverly Place." The piece runs just 7 minutes and 30 seconds; an additional 35 seconds consist of text telling you all the ways you can consume the sitcom. Oy.

Recycled extras begin with the Vault Disney Channel's "Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers" (11:27), a retrospective with songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman. They reveal how the project's seeds were planted with P.L. Travers' second thoughts about letting Mary Poppins be made and proceed to discuss production with respect to specific Bedknobs songs, including a deleted one. There is also archival behind-the-scenes footage and comments by Angela Lansbury. Disappointingly, this featurette runs barely half as long as it did on Bedknobs' original DVD (20:40). All of the informative parts on Scott MacQueen's restoration have been cut.

As the introductory scroll lifted directly from the 25th Anniversary Edition laserdisc explains, the reconstruction of "A Step in the Right Direction" (3:45) is the best way to enjoy this deleted song unless the discarded full footage is ever unearthed. Angela Lansbury's recording of the song is heard, while a slideshow of still photographs gives us a good idea of how the Lansbury-plus-broom number would have looked.

David Tomlinson is conducted to sing a single verse of "Portobello Road" in this sad little clip. One of the four included trailers places a title logo over a trippy transit shot. The bed flies across the pleasant animated main menu, perhaps the best new thing about the Enchanted Musical Edition.

Next, we get a 70-second video of a David Tomlinson "Portobello Road" recording session. Although the clip is clearly staged for publicity purposes, there's something sad about seeing a gray-haired, clean-shaven Tomlinson delivering a single slow verse for conductor Irwin Kostal.

Four theatrical trailers are preserved, ranging from 90 seconds to just under 4 minutes. The first three are clearly a product of a time when showing endless clips from a movie was considered promotion and when you could actually hear the phrase "three homeless Cockney waifs" as a selling point. The fourth sounds like it comes from a re-release.

Last and not really qualifying as an extra is the extended advertisement you didn't ask for. Teen actors Dylan and Cole Sprouse and their TV mom Kim Rhodes all tell us how "Blu-ray is Suite" for nearly five minutes (this is actually a shortened version of the pitch). Including an infomercial as a bonus feature really ought to knock down the price for consumers.

What's especially annoying is that Bedknobs has had the Scrapbook (of concept art, behind-the-scenes photos, and poster designs) and Film Facts sections of its original DVD disappear in favor of "Wizards of Waverly Place" promotion and the "Suite Life" kids telling us to go Blu. Two animated shorts are also dropped, Mickey Mouse's The Worm Turns and Donald Duck's The Vanishing Private. While the cartoons weren't the most relevant, their disappearance certainly devalues the package, particularly for those who don't have the shorts on their respective Walt Disney Treasures sets.

The disc is headed by previews for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Princess and the Frog (the full trailer) and Santa Buddies. The Sneak Peeks menu adds promos for Up, Like Stars on Earth, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, Disney Blu-ray, Disney Movie Rewards, and D23.

The animated main menu moves along with the flying bed across terrains of varied mediums. The DVD's obligatory "o-sleeve" slipcover is embossed on the front, which features subtle holographic touches. A Blu-ray booklet and Disney Movie Rewards code are found inside.

Eglantine (Angela Lansbury) tries to speak reason with Emelius, who she's turned into a rabbit. With the children watching, Eglantine tries to cast a spell and succeeds at making the bedknob light up in pink.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Bedknobs and Broomsticks began as a back-up plan should Mary Poppins fall through and to this date, it exists in the shadow of that earlier film. It's no Mary Poppins, but it definitely ranks among the better family films of its time
and one which entertains in ways similar to Disney's previous musical fantasy.

This Enchanted Musical Edition registers as a disappointment. The feature presentation is the same mixed-bag reconstruction of the previous DVD, with the tauter theatrical cut still not offered. More surprisingly, the release offers a pretty blatant downgrade in the bonus features department. The one all-new addition plays like an extended and inappropriate promo for "Wizards of Waverly Place"; for a far better piece on Disney visual effects, you need only look to the recent reissue of Pete's Dragon. That an art gallery, film facts, bonus shorts, and half of the Sherman Brothers featurette from Bedknobs' 30th Anniversary Edition DVD are dropped in favor of "Wizards" and Blu-ray promotion is a pretty good indication that a 2-disc set was called for. Plus, what a missed opportunity to catch up with Angela Lansbury and the kids.

This is one instance where patience is not rewarded with a better DVD. If you already own the 30th Anniversary Bedknobs DVD, hold onto it and enjoy. If you do not, it does seem like a better purchase, but it will require more effort and money. If you don't care much about bonus features (or put more value upon a cardboard sleeve), then this edition will do just fine as a way of owning the film.

Buy from Amazon.com / Buy Original DVD / The Book: Bed-Knob and Broomstick by Mary Norton

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Mary Poppins (45th Anniversary Edition) The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (Special Two-Disc Collector's Edition)
The Aristocats (Special Edition) Escape to Witch Mountain Return from Witch Mountain Robin Hood (Most Wanted Edition)
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Hocus Pocus Enchanted Candleshoe The Barefoot Executive The Million Dollar Duck Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection
From Bedknobs and Broomsticks Writers: That Darn Cat! The Misadventures of Merlin Jones Blackbeard's Ghost Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N.

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Reviewed September 4, 2009.