Blu-ray Review: Bedknobs and Broomsticks

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A sweet blast of nostalgia for anyone who grew up with it, the 1971 Disney live-action/animated classic Bedknobs and Broomsticks is bound to attract an entirely new generation of fans with this Blu-ray special edition. Decades later, its charm is undiminished and the film retains its Mary Poppins-like ambiance. Be aware, the new Blu-ray presents the 117-minute theatrical cut rather than the reconstructed “roadshow” version previously presented on DVD. Might Disney have missed an opportunity to please everyone by not including both the original and extended cuts? Yes, but there are 24 minutes of deleted and extended songs and ten minutes of deleted and extended scenes, all presented in high definition. Call it a compromise if you must, but it shouldn’t deter anyone from rediscovering this slice of Disney magic.

Bedknobs_New to Blu-ray_2 (380x302).jpgSet during the Blitz of World War II, with the Nazis on the brink of invading the English coastal town of Pepperinge Eye, Bedknobs benefits from an underlying historical import and seriousness that toughens up its more whimsical elements. Charlie, Carrie, and Paul Rawlins (Ian Weighill, Cindy O’Callaghan, and Roy Snart, respectively) are a trio of orphaned children who find themselves under the care of Ms. Price (Angela Lansbury). They’re hardened, unsentimental tykes who soon discover that Ms. Price is far more than the doddering older lady she appears. In fact, Ms. Price is an apprentice witch with the lofty goal of using magic to stop the Nazis from successfully invading Pepperinge Eye. But she’s missing a crucial piece of a spell that will allow her to enact “Substitutiary Locomotion” (as the song goes), bringing motion to inanimate objects.

Bedknobs_New to Blu-ray_10 (380x296).jpgWith the help of Mr. Browne (David Tomlinson), a shifty (but ultimately kindhearted) con man only too happy to find out his phony spell are actually the real deal, they travel far in wide in search of the missing text. Old-fashioned, gritty animated sequences take our band of heroes underwater (featuring another memorable Sherman Brothers song, “The Beautiful Briny”) and into an animal-dominated soccer match. Most of the film is live-action, but these inventive animated sequences are surefire, kid-pleasing highlights. It all leads to some effective, rousing action involving the forward-march of the invading Nazi army. The plot could be criticized as meandering, but the various tangents are never less than entertaining. As perfect as Lansbury and Tomlinson are for their roles, the children steal the show with their endearingly unaffected performances.

Disney has done entirely right by Bedknobs and Broomsticks and its cinematographer Frank Phillips by keeping things authentically grainy. But the high definition images are sharp and detailed, even with the retention of the film’s naturally grainy look. Some sequences, especially the animation, may even appear almost “dirty” to those accustomed to the sometimes wholesale scrubbing Disney has given their classics. But this is the way the film originally looked. While the DTS-HD MA 5.1 isn’t going to surprise anyone with immersive directionality, it sounds perfectly fine. The songs, in particular, benefit from the lossless mix.

Bedknobs_New to Blu-ray_8 (380x296).jpgEasily highlighting the supplemental materials are the aforementioned high definition deleted/extended songs and scenes. It’s a bit weird watching the standard definition, ported-from-DVD “Music Magic” featurette, in which the Sherman brothers and Angela Lansbury talk about the extended DVD cut that isn’t actually included here on Blu-ray. But the featurette does at least shed light on the amount of work that went into making this extra footage presentable (which even included ADR work by alternate actors, not always convincingly delivered). A number of other SD bits and pieces are ported over, including a featurette about the film’s Oscar-winning special effects. The Blu-ray package also includes a standard DVD (which also only includes the 117-minute theatrical cut) and an iTunes-compatible digital copy.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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