Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

2014 #10
Robert Stevenson | 112 mins | streaming | 1.66:1 | USA & UK / English & German | U / G

Bedknobs and BroomsticksDisney 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, Yellow submarine?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.

4 out of 5

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

2008 #92
John Lounsbery & Wolfgang Reitherman | 71 mins | DVD | U / G

The Many Adventures of Winnie the PoohHaving finished 2007 with Piglet’s Big Movie, it feels somewhat appropriate to round off 2008 (almost) with Disney’s first Winnie-the-Pooh feature.

The Many Adventures… is actually compiled from three shorts made in 1966, 1968 and 1974, with some new linking material. I don’t know if these shorts were produced with any great expense, but there’s occasional evidence of what looks like cheap animation. It’s not that it’s not smooth or fluid, but rather the attentive viewer will often spot sketch marks around some lines, or flashes of other bits not properly erased. Perhaps it was deliberate, considering the sketchy style of the backgrounds, designed to evoke the original illustrations, but I sometimes found it distracting.

This is one relatively minor flaw in an otherwise brilliant adaptation, however. The film faithfully adapts several of the original stories, acknowledging its sources by frequently showing the action as illustrations within a copy of the book. This fourth-wall-breaking move may irritate some, but personally I loved seeing Pooh and co have to leap from page to page, or tipping the book sideways to free Tigger from a tree. Such moves seem tonally in keeping with A.A. Milne’s original stories and, even though some tales are abridged and some good ones left out, that spirit is always retained.

The characterisation is also spot on, producing an array of cute and loveable creations, none more so than Pooh himself. The gopher is an unnecessary addition, though the running joke about him not being in the book is very nicely done. And one can’t fail to mention the excellent songs, now as linked to the world of Pooh as anything from the original books — especially Tigger’s little tune, surely familiar to anyone who was a child in the last 30 years.

If some later Disney ventures have lost sight of the correct spirit for Pooh’s adventures, at least this original is a great adaptation. Bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, and, above all, fun fun fun fun fun.

5 out of 5