Robert Stevenson | 112 mins | streaming | 1.66:1 | USA & UK / English & German | U / G
Disney attempted to replicate the success of Mary Poppins with this, another musical adaptation of a fantastical British novel set in Britain with British people in it — including some kids who, based on their accents, must be from the same part of London as Dick Van Dyke’s Bert. A childhood staple for others, it somehow passed me by ’til now.
Set during World War Two, it follows a gaggle of evacuated siblings who are placed with Angela Lansbury’s white witch. Or, rather, white-witch-in-training — via a correspondence course, which has stopped just before the end. So off they pop to find the course’s director, after which hijinks ensue, culminating in a stealth invasion of Britain that can only be thwarted with magic.
Tonally, it’s every inch Mary Poppins 2, helped no doubt by having the same director, screenwriters and songwriters. There’s the bemused-but-game kids, the quirky magic-performing woman, a male adult to round out the gender-coverage; the story is a series of loosely-connected vignettes, many of them featuring songs, and one that’s mostly animated with our live-action heroes integrated; plus a climax where the good guys defeat one of the world’s great evils, with Poppins’ bankers here switched for the almost-as-bad Nazis. The magical special effects in that final sequence won an Oscar — and well deserved it was too. They look great, definitely holding up today, and it’s actually hard to be sure how they were all achieved.
As a whole, it’s good fun, though lacks the je ne sais quoi that has made Mary Poppins so beloved across the generations. Not being quite as good as one of the all-time-great children’s movies is hardly something to be sniffed at, however, rendering Bedknobs and Broomsticks a perhaps-underrated success.