Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971 Disney)

Three children evacuated from London end up being reluctantly taken in by an odd woman who lives on her own with a raggedy black cat. They don’t even make it to the end of the first night before they observe that their new guardian Miss Price is not just odd, she is an actual witch, trying to perfect a spell to help with the war effort. While the children make this discovery, Miss Price makes her own – the mail-order college she has been training with is going out of business before she has everything she needs. With the help of Paul’s knob (don’t ask) they set off to London to find the Professor – the start of a much bigger adventure.

As far as first impressions go, I’m honest I wondered if the opening credit sequence would ever end (a sequence that only has context once you have watched the film till the end). The titles roll for at least five minutes without much to recommend them for and the film opens in much the same vein. Although there are some amusing moments and a bit of fantasy in the opening 20 or so minutes, it is slow and takes a while to get going. It doesn’t help that the plot is a little vague and messy so that at one point I was neither sure why they were doing what they were doing, nor sure I particularly cared why they were doing it. This is a bit harsh perhaps – but I was thinking what children (not the most patient demographic) would be doing during this – in particular I was trying to think of any child I know who would be entranced by the Portobello Road song and dance number! They must be few in number.

It is still OK at this stage though and the good news is that it gets better with plenty of action, fun, invention and wit moving forward. The plotting is still a little bit “hmm” but it gets to where it is going thanks to the timely mini-invasion. The soccer match, the underwater musical number and of course the battle at the end are all great fun and I imagine children will enjoy them as much as I did (well, more so probably). The old-fashioned feel is nice and I did like the sense of good clean family fun which the whole film had – although I’m not sure why the script calls for Paul to expressly refer to his knob so often; it is too deliberate and scripted to be merely something cynical modern ears pick up on. The pacing of the film is generally good as well but it is a little slower than it needed to be and I think being honest they could have had 15 minutes out of this without too much bother and it would have been a better film for it; not to say it is bad for the length, just that it doesn’t always seem to need it.

The cast is fun and all buy into the family tone. Lansbury in particular sells the role and works very well with Tomlinson in the adult roles. The children are a little annoying until you get used to them having the cockney turned up to 11 throughout; odd that neither of the boys ever did acting after this considering I liked them better than O’Callaghan’s Carrie, who has less to do. Regardless they all work well and even when the animated sections turn up, the humans don’t get lost in the fantasy but remain solid characters. Bedknobs and Broomsticks isn’t brilliant but it is a solidly fun Disney family film. The majority of the musical numbers could have been better, the plot could have been stronger and the pacing/length trimmed to be slicker but it does all work, albeit not as well as it could have done. Enjoyable nonetheless with good wit and imagination – off-target Disney is still enjoyable. Highly recommended. 🙂

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