Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Age of Not Believing

So yeah....I have no good excuse as to why I haven't posted in a while aside from the fact that I recently began re-reading Stephen King's Needful Things and I have been enjoying that during my Study Hall periods.  In fact, it had become so much a part of my daily routine during the shows (when I elected to completely stop writing in my blog) that I never stopped and thus forgot to keep posting after that first one.  But worry not friends, I have returned with a bit of the past to share with you.  This past weekend I went camping with a much-too-short-lived new friend and while we were canoeing he kept yelling song requests at me (because I have such a melodious voice, don'cha know) and when he had me sing "Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins I remembered a little known fact about the film I'm going to examine today.  It seems that there was a section in Poppins which focused on a magic compass and in one of the scenes they all went to the bottom of The Beautiful Briney Sea (and sang that like-titled song) where they had a marvelous adventure.  It didn't work in the final story however, and was cut.  The Sherman Brothers remembered the song all those years later, however, when reviving a film project that had gotten shuffled aside in order to make Poppins and decided it was a perfect fit for a scene in that film which did figure very much into the story and would not be cut.  I was so wrapped up in the story that I told my new semi-ex friend that I sang the tune to him which brought back a wash of memories of my youth with this gem of a family film from the Mouse House.  I decided when I arrived back home on Sunday night that I simply had to watch it...and truthfully I love it more now than I did as a kid.  So without further ado I bring to you Disney's second family fantasy epic, based on Mary Norton's books...Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

It is the time of World War II in England and everyone is on edge, wondering if the Nazis will be invading their corner of the world next.  In the sleepy village of Pepperinge Eye, life has gotten a bit more exciting as the War Office has sent many of London's children into the country for safety and the unofficial town leaded, Mrs. Hobday, has been buisily placing them with families (some already quite stretched).  The last three, Carrie, Charles, and Paul Rawlings, are to be placed in the care of Miss Eglantine Price...an arrangement that none of them is exceptionally happy about.  Miss Price insists that she and children do not get along and that the work she is doing is much too time consuming to allow her to take care of children and the children insist that, being orphans, they know enough about the world to take care of themselves.  Mrs. Hobday is firm however, that they must be given shelter and Miss Price has a huge house all to herself so therefore they must all learn to live with it.  The children make plans to run back to London and Miss Price continues on with her private business...which just so happens to be learning how to be a real-life witch.  On the night that the children decide to head back to London, they catch Miss Price learning to ride her first broom.  Deciding that they can use this to their advantage, they decide to blackmail Miss Price (Charlie being the lead of that scheme).  First Miss Price is afraid and worries that they may expose her and so she pleads that her work is being done solely to help the war effort (she plans to use magic against the Nazis if they invade).  When those pleas fall on Charlie's deaf ears, she turns him into a rabbit to show that she will not be bossed around.  Paul and Carrie, already taking a liking to Miss Price, back down and Charlie suggests a pact.  Miss Price agrees and offers them a magic bedknob, which can take their bed anywhere they wish if they just speak the correct words, in exchange for their silence.  Soon they are off on one adventure after another as Miss Price, the children, and Professor Emelius Browne, head of the Correspondence Collage of Witchcraft, head off to find the last spell she needs to become an adversary fit for the German invaders.

Wow...that was quite a summary, but quite necessary.  I feel that with this film, a short summary undermines it and reduces the setup far too much...and setup is everything with this story.  Once all the players and the basic story is in place, the film mostly plays from the Mary Poppins playbook in terms of going from one magical set piece to another.  It should come as no surprise to anyone watching the film, that this was made by almost the exact same creative team as Poppins.  It was directed by Robert Stevenson (director of the former), the music was completed by Richard and Robert Sherman (composers of the former), and Professor Browne was played by David Tomlinson (who played Mr. Banks in the former).  Knowing this, many critics are of the opinion that Bedknobs is simply a Mary Poppins clone...an attempt to capture lightning in a bottle.  Of course that is impossible, which is why despite the fact that the films are very similar (due in part to their source material being similar) they strike much different paths tonally.  Poppins was about the innocence of youth and belief that things will get better (and indeed they do) while Bedknobs is about regaining that sense of belief of childhood and discovering faith that everything will turn out alright.  Bedknobs is definitely made for the audience who was ten years older since Poppins which is perhaps why folks found it to be too dark and un-whimsical compared to the former.  Granted, moments in the film do drag on a bit (the Portobello Road and Isle of Naboombu sequences comes to mind) and these are the places where the filmmakers did try to completely copy the magic of Poppins unsuccessfully.  It's when they let the film grow as it's own, dark and depressing as it is, that it shines and manages to set itself above the other family claptrap of the time.  It is a long film at two hours and ninteen minutes and it feels like a long journey once you are finished (more so than the identically long and more quickly paced Poppins), but perhaps that is more in keeping with the dark and weary tone that the film sets forth.  I can't believe now, after three paragraphs chock-full of information, that I haven't yet praised Angela Lansbury in her portrayal as the restrained yet loveable Miss Price.  She was the perfect choice for this film, especially to keep it a separate animal from Poppins, with her fuddy-duddy mannerisms and the amusing way that the outrageousness of the situations they find themselves in chip away at her unflappable British nature.  All-in-all, this is truely classic film that is worth seeing once, if not several times.

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