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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Blu-ray + DVD Review

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang movie poster Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Theatrical Release: December 18, 1968 / Running Time: 144 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Ken Hughes / Writers: Roald Dahl, Ken Hughes (screenplay); Ian Fleming (novel)

Cast: Dick Van Dyke (Caractacus Potts), Sally Ann Howes (Truly Scrumptious), Lionel Jeffries (Grandpa Potts), Gert Fröbe (Baron Bomburst), Anna Quayle (Baroness Bomburst), Benny Hill (Toymaker), James Robertson Justice (Lord Scrumptious), Robert Helpmann (Child Catcher), Heather Ripley (Jemima Potts), Adrian Hall (Jeremy Potts)

Songs: "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", "Truly Scrumptious", "Hushabye Mountain", "Me Ol' Bamboo", "Toot Sweets", "The Roses of Success", "Lovely Lonely Man", "You Two", "Chu-Chi Face", "Posh!", "Doll on a Music Box"

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By Kelvin Cedeno

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang belongs to a class of films that are often mistaken for Disney productions when they're in fact not. While on other movies the reasoning
doesn't usually go further than the use of animation or archetypes made popular by Disney, in the case of Chitty, the confusion is more warranted. Dick Van Dyke playing the male lead in a splashy, two-and-a-half-hour 1960s musical with songs by the Sherman Brothers and score by Irwin Kostal is understandably reminiscent of Mary Poppins. Throw in a prim and proper female lead and two children (all from England), and the comparisons to Disney's 1964 classic are inevitable.

Loosely based on a book by James Bond creator Ian Fleming, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang finds its protagonist by way of Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke). Potts is an inventor, but not a very successful one. As the single father of children Jemima (Heather Ripley) and Jeremy (Adrian Hall), he struggles to make ends meet. The children request he save a used motorcar from destruction, so Potts has it completely refurbished, christening it Chitty Chitty Bang Bang based on the sound it makes.

With Chitty, the trio meets the refined, well-to-do Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes), daughter of a rich candy factory owner. She joins the group on a picnic that leads to storytelling from Potts. In his tale, the petulant and greedy Baron Bomburst (Gert Fröbe) seeks to steal Chitty for himself. Unable to do so, he kidnaps Grandpa Potts (Lionel Jeffries), thinking him to be the creator of Chitty. Thanks to the features Caractacus has installed in the vehicle, the gang follows Bomburst by both sea and air to the land of Vulgaria, where children are strictly prohibited. Now Caractacus finds himself having to both rescue Grandpa and keep his kids safe.

With a car like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, who wouldn't randomly break out in song during a drive? Not Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke), Jemima (Heather Ripley), Jeremy (Adrian Hall), and Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes).

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang can best be described as a charming chore. By that I mean that that while the film holds plenty of entertainment value, its meandering story (adapted by kid lit icon Roald Dahl and director Ken Hughes) is a bit trying. Though frequently misidentified as a Disney movie, Disney has always prided themselves on their tight and efficient narratives. Chitty, on the other hand, is awfully indulgent, throwing in fantastic sequences and musical numbers just because it can. In fact, the whole story-within-a-story concept doesn't even start until nearly 80 minutes in. Before that, you're left wondering where all this is leading.

The second half of the picture works much better, which is unusual, since many musicals have a strong first act to which the second can't compare (The Sound of Music, Funny Girl, and Fiddler on the Roof immediately come to mind). That's not to say that Chitty's Act II is perfect, however. The whole thing is played pretty much as a farce and because of that, there's barely a sense of peril. Only two scenes involving Robert Helpmann's creepy Child Catcher character present any real tension.

Even at its most self-serving, the picture is still entertaining for a variety of reasons. The songs by Richard and Robert Sherman are as strong as those of their other works. The title song and "Toot Sweets" both stay in one's head for days while "Doll on a Music Box" has a haunting quality to it. The choreography by Poppins' Marc Breaux and Dee Dee Wood is also impressive, particularly on "Toot Sweets" and "Me Ol' Bamboo." Often, musical numbers have a different feel from their surroundings, but these ones display just as much creativity and imagination as the dramatic scenes.

Caractacus (Dick Van Dyke) and Truly (Sally Ann Howes) break into the Baron's castle and perform a number disguised as birthday presents. He may be waving lots of pretty flowers and candy about, but is the Child Catcher (Robert Helpmann) really someone you would trust with your kid?

Dick Van Dyke essentially plays himself here, which is just fine as he exudes natural charm as always. His charisma is almost enough to make one forget he's the sole American in this production, a fact that makes him being the father of two British children a bit odd
(Van Dyke reportedly refused to do an accent for the film after the criticism he endured for his Cockney one in Poppins).

The rest of the cast is likewise appealing and obviously having a great deal of fun. Most surprising is Gert Fröbe. Having only seen him as the calm and collected Bond villain Goldfinger, his over-the-top temper tantrums as the Baron are quite a revelation. Other cast members like Sally Ann Howes, Benny Hill, and Lionel Jeffries feel slightly underutilized, but they make the most of their screen time, particularly Jeffries.

There's a lot to like about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It has memorable numbers, staggering production design, and a sense of whimsy that's reflected in its cast. Unfortunately, it takes too long to really get going and prefers showing off what it can do rather than serving the story it's telling. So long as expectations are kept in check, fans of musical fantasies in the vein of Mary Poppins should enjoy this.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Blu-ray + DVD cover art -- click to buy combo from Amazon.com Blu-ray and DVD Details

2.20:1 Widescreen; DVD Anamorphic
Blu-ray: DTS-HD 7.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish), DTS 5.1 (French)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: November 2, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Eco-Friendly Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Previously released as 2-Disc Special Edition DVD
and 1-Disc Pan & Scan DVD (both out of print)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang arrives in a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack in its original aspect ratio of 2.20:1. Despite being a somewhat lesser known catalogue title, the transfer has been given a great deal of care. This is a very colorful film, and that shows in the vivid hues that pop off the screen. Sharpness is uniformly excellent, though a few shots exhibit some slight edge enhancement. The image is also astoundingly clean, lacking any sort of print defects. There's a noticeable lack of grain that may startle purists, but considering detail is consistently visible, this doesn't seem to be a case of excessive digital noise reduction. This is a truly scrumptious presentation.

The DTS-HD 7.1 track is also strong, though not quite up to the same level as the picture. Dialogue is always clearly understood, but occasionally a little on the hollow side, noticeably differing from the more robust musical elements. That's really where the track excels as the orchestrations are presented in a rich manner that almost feels live. Surrounds aren't utilized for much else as sound effects are rather low key, but there's some nice and noticeable directionality in the dialogue mixing. While perhaps not the most dynamic example of a 1960s musical soundtrack, this one still manages to satisfy.

Watch out for the Child Catcher as you guide Chitty through a board game-looking interface in Chitty Chitty's Bang Bang Driving Game. Dick Van Dyke reminisces about his time working on the film, including some of the things that went wrong during the shoot.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The Blu-ray carries over virtually all of the supplements from 2003's two-disc Special Edition DVD starting with a sing-along. As expected, this offers all of the film's musical numbers with accompanying lyrics that change colors so the singer can follow along.
In a nice touch, this can be activated on the film itself or one could choose to play only the musical numbers individually or consecutively.

The first Blu-ray-exclusive is "Chitty Chitty's Bang Bang Driving Game." Here, the player must guide Chitty through a path made out to look like a 2-D board game. Along the way, the player must avoid hitting obstacles and characters. The gameplay itself is shockingly clunky compared to most BD games, and to make matters worse, it is over in approximately 60 seconds. It's a bland and lazy affair.

The next and last exclusive is "Toot Sweet Toots Musical Maestro." At six points throughout the film, a selection of colored candies will emerge at the bottom of the screen. The player must press the corresponding color keys on their remote in the same order the sweets twirl in. Why this is placed over the feature film six times instead of in an isolated set-top game is anyone's guess. It's boring and offers no treat for successful play.

The rest of the meatier supplements are presented in standard definition, ported over from the DVD. "Remembering Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with Dick Van Dyke" (25:58) showcases a then-current interview with the actor about his experiences making the film. While he lavishes praise on his co-workers and the film itself, he still provides plenty of substantial information. Nearly every musical number he was a part of is given some attention, and he even points out little details to look for in each. While it's a shame Sally Ann Howes and the two actors who played the children weren't interviewed to give this piece a broader perspective, Van Dyke's winning enthusiasm makes the featurette worth a look.

Pierre Picton shows off "A Fantasmagorical Motorcar" and all of the nifty working features it comes with. Inventor Roland Emmett surveys one of his many peculiar creations made specifically for the film in "The Ditchling Tinkerer." Dick Van Dyke is all smiles throughout this vintage interview, even when discussing the darker aspects of the story with the press.

"A Fantasmagorical Motorcar" (9:43) looks at the iconic car itself and its owner Pierre Picton. Picton tells of how he was entrusted with the car's maintenance during production and how he later stumbled upon it once again, purchasing it for himself. He also gives a detailed examination of the car and all of its kooky details. Picton's anecdotes are interesting, and the showcasing of the car gives one an appreciation for its design.

Next are a whopping fourteen song demos (30:20) performed by the Sherman Brothers. Actually, whether or not both are present is difficult to tell as only Richard is singing. What makes this particularly unique is that three of the demos are for songs that didn't make it into the film. All are a treat to hear and are surprisingly crisp in quality.
Note that during the duration of these songs, a static image of Chitty is placed on the screen. While a half-hour may not be enough time to create burn-in on a screen, it's still a little uncomfortable not to have other images in rotation.

Under "Vintage Featurettes" lies a trio of promotional clips from the time of the film's release. "The Ditchling Tinkerer" (10:06) focuses on inventor Roland Emmett. Emmett can be credited with the many bizarre contraptions found in the Potts home, and he even gives us a closer examination of how these work.

"Dick Van Dyke Press Interview" (8:48) is a single-take Q & A between the actor and off-screen journalists whose questions are rather banal and even a little skeptical. While Van Dyke's answers are well thought-out, his mannerisms and expressions throughout the interview make him seem a little tipsy. When one knows of the actor's struggle with alcohol during this time period, it makes for somewhat uneasy viewing.

Adrian Hall points to the St. Tropez sign for Heather Ripley before they embark on an unsupervised journey to the city. The theatrical trailer features a brighter and even more retro logo than the one that appears in the film itself. The cast members of the West End stage adaptation of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" make an on-stage appearance in this DVD-exclusive trailer.

The last of the vintage featurettes, "The Potts Children" (3:05) looks at child actors Heather Ripley and Adrian Hall. We see them fooling around with the other actors in between takes and even some of their (staged) time exploring the German countryside. Oddly, the children (especially Ripley) sound significantly older in their narration, making one wonder how long the film's post-production process ran.

A 46-still photo gallery contains various shots from the set, both candid behind-the-scenes and ones shot for promotional purposes.

Finally, there's a generous Vintage Advertising Gallery which contains the theatrical trailer (3:20), a French theatrical trailer (3:36), and five TV spots (3:36).

A DVD copy of the film is also included, but the only bonus feature it holds besides the sing-along is a trailer for the long-closed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Musical (2:30). Left off from the old Special Edition DVD are two set-top games and a storybook, features that surely won't be missed.

The Blu-ray menu features a bird's eye view of Vulgaria and its mammoth castle. The DVD's main menu features an unpiloted CG Chitty flying throughout the clouds on a sunny day.

The Blu-ray's main menu is designed as if the viewer were riding in Chitty, soaring through clouds and surveying the Vulgarian landscape. The exit music version of the title song plays over this. The pop-up menu is placed in the windshield of Chitty and expands upward, with the subselections contained in clouds. The DVD features a CG Chitty flying (without a driver) through clouds.

Both discs come housed in an eco-friendly blue keepcase which is held in an embossed cardboard slipcover. Inside the case is a pamphlet advertising other MGM and Fox titles along with a $3 coupon redeemable on them.

Caractacus (Dick Van Dyke) and Truly (Sally Ann Howes) are excitedly joined by Lord Scrumptious' factory workers in holding up Toot Sweets, the candy you can use as a flute. Only someone like Grandpa Potts (Lionel Jeffries) could remain perfectly nonchalant at being stuck inside his outhouse-looking home suspended hundreds of feet up in the air.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is fairly well-known among film fans, and that's about the level of success it deserves. Its story and script are not polished enough to earn it a more revered status, but its technical qualities, performances, and spirit earn it the right to at least be seen and acknowledged. MGM's Blu-ray presents a beautiful image with solid audio and a decent helping of extras. This is not for cynics, but those with a fondness for whimsical adventure and splashy musicals will likely find a pleasing, if drawn-out, experience.

Buy from Amazon.com / Buy Special Edition DVD / Buy The Book by Ian Fleming

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Related Reviews:
Dick Van Dyke: Mary Poppins (45th Anniversary Edition) • Never a Dull Moment • Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N. • Night at the Museum
New: Sid & Marty Krofft's Saturday Morning Hits • Santa Claus: The Movie (25th Anniversary) • Toy Story 3 • The Goonies (25th Anniversary)
Musicals: Bedknobs and Broomsticks • Babes in Toyland • Pete's Dragon • A Star is Born • Enchanted • The Jungle Book • Newsies
1960s Movies: Planet of the Apes • 2001: A Space Odyssey • The Odd Couple • The Absent-Minded Professor • Doctor Zhivago
Roald Dahl: Fantastic Mr. Fox • James and the Giant Peach | Ian Fleming: James Bond Blu-ray Collection, Volumes 1 and 2
Guest-Starring Dick Van Dyke: Scrubs: The Complete Second Season • The Golden Girls: The Complete Fifth Season

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Reviewed November 8, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1968 United Artists, 2010 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Fox Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.