Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a 1971 American musical film produced by Walt Disney Productions and released by Buena Vista Distribution Company in North America on December 13, 1971. It is based upon the books The Magic Bed Knob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons (1943) and Bonfires and Broomsticks (1945) by English children's author Mary Norton. The film, which combines live action and animation, stars Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson.
The film is frequently compared with Mary Poppins (1964), as it also combines live action and animation and is partly set in the streets of London. It shares several cast member from Mary Poppins, namely Tomlinson, supporting actor Reginald Owen (in his last film role) and Arthur Malet, a similar filmcrew, songwriters the Sherman Brothers, director Robert Stevenson, art director Peter Ellenshaw, and music director Irwin Kostal.
The film received generally positive reviews from critics, scoring 66% on Rotten Tomatoes, and won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. This was the last film released prior to the death of Walt Disney's surviving brother, Roy O. Disney, who died one week later.
The story opens in the autumn of 1940, during the Blitz. The Rawlins children, Charlie, Carrie, and Paul, are evacuated to the coastal Dorset village of Pepperinge Eye. They are placed in the care of Eglantine Price, a reclusive woman who reluctantly takes them in. Miss Price is actually an apprentice witch and a student of the Correspondence College of Witchcraft, hoping her magic can bring the war to an end. She receives a broomstick from the college, though her attempt to fly it ends in a crash landing. The children observe her while attempting to run back to London. This prompts a change in their plans; the children return to bed, and Charlie attempts to blackmail Miss Price the next day into certain conditions in exchange for keeping her witchcraft a secret, believing her to be an incompetent witch due to the failed flying attempt. Miss Price instead briefly transforms him into a white rabbit, and Charlie is chased by Miss Price's cat Cosmic Creepers. Cosmic Creepers corners Charlie, but Charlie reverts to his normal form before he is harmed. Deciding to form an agreement with the children, Miss Price enchants a bedknob, which will transport them to any location they wish when attached to her father's antique bed. She gives ownership to Paul, who had previously pulled the knob off the bed.
Ms. Price receives a letter reporting the college has been closed down, forcing her to go to London to speak with the college's headmaster Emelius Browne. Convincing Paul to help her, the children use the bed to travel to London (though Charlie initially refuses to go and only joins the group out of fear of Cosmic Creepers), where they meet Mr. Browne, actually a charismatic and not very adept charlatan who found some apparently meaningless formulas in a very old spellbook and turned them into an imaginary educational course. Miss Price asks for the final spell of the course, but Mr. Browne refuses until he too is turned into a rabbit, convincing him that the spells he had thought were fake were in fact real. The elated Mr. Browne invites the group to an abandoned mansion he is occupying. Mr. Browne gives the spellbook to Miss Price (after a second turn as a rabbit), but the second half is missing, without the Substitutiary Locomotion spell that Miss Price had been searching for, revealing to her why Mr. Browne had abruptly closed the correspondence course. The group go to Portobello Road at Mr. Browne's suggestion, where they search for the other half of the book, attracting the attention of a spiv named Swinburne.
Swinburne forces them to see his associate, the Bookman, who has the other half of the book. Miss Price and the Bookman examine the book but find out that the final spell isn't in either half. The Bookman explains the book's author, a sorcerer named Astaroth, used his magic to give wild animals anthropomorphism, only for them to kill him and steal the source of his magic, a medallion called the "Star of Astaroth." The animals sailed to the Isle of Naboombu, believed to not exist until Paul reveals it does, proved in a storybook he has. Ms. Price's group escape on the bed before the Bookman can stop them. The group crashland in the animated world of Naboombu, travelling through the lagoon until fished out by a bear. Though no humans are allowed on the island, Mr. Browne speaks with King Leonidas, a lion who is a soccer fanatic and wears the Star of Astaroth, offering to act as referee in an upcoming soccer match.
Mr. Browne participates in the chaotic match, which ends with the king's self-proclaimed victory. Mr. Browne secretly steals the Star, and Miss Price has to turn Leonidas into a rabbit to make their escape back home, but they discover the Star has vanished before they can read the spell. Paul, however, spots the incantation for the Substitutiary Locomotion spell ("Treguna Mekoides Trecorum Satis Dee"), able to animate inanimate objects, within his book. Miss Price tests the spell on Mr. Browne's shoes, but its power animates other clothes and creates a chaotic scene. Mrs. Jessica Hobday, organizer for the children's refuge, visits and tells Miss Price that the children can be moved, but Miss Price declines. Mr. Browne grows worried he is becoming too attached to Miss Price and the children, and departs for London, only to be forced to sleep at the railway station to wait for the next train, which won't arrive until morning.
A small group of German commandos sneak onto the coast and occupy Miss Price's house, placing her and the children in a local weaponry museum. Mr. Browne, startled awake by German soldiers clipping utility lines, returns to the house, uses magic to turn himself into a rabbit, and joins the others in the museum. Ms. Price uses Substitutiary Locomotion to animate the museum's displays, and leads an army of medieval knights, Cavalier, Redcoat, and Highlander costumes from her flying broomstick against the German invaders. The army, unharmed by gunfire, quickly overwhelms the German forces. Surmising Ms. Price's workshop is the source of her magic, the German commander destroys it with explosions, knocking Ms. Price off her broomstick and the army collapses. The Germans retreat to the sea, with members of the local Home Guard firing at them as they flee.
Though disappointed her witchcraft is gone, Ms. Price expresses happiness she did help out in the war effort. Shortly after, Mr. Browne enlists into the British Army and marches off with the Home Guard escorting him, while Paul reveals he still possesses the enchanted bedknob.
Angela Lansbury as Miss Eglantine Price. Miss Price is initially a somewhat reclusive woman, reluctant to take in children from London as she believes they will get in the way of her witchcraft, which she prefers to keep secret but hopes to use to bring the nascent World War II to an end. Though at first refusing to take the children in to her house, she quickly warms up to them.,
David Tomlinson as Mr. Emelius Browne. Introduced as "Professor Browne," the title by which Miss Price knows him, he is running a Correspondence College of Witchcraft based on what he believes to be "nonsense words" found in an old book. When Miss Price and the children find him in London, he is revealed to be a street performer and con artist, and not a very good one. He is, however, a smooth talker, which proves useful on the group's adventures, and believes in doing everything "with a flair." As the adventures unfold, he finds himself developing an attachment to Miss Price and the children, a feeling he struggles with.,
Ian Weighill as Charles "Charlie" Rawlins. Charlie is the eldest of the orphaned Rawlins children; eleven, going on twelve, according to Carrie, an age which Miss Price calls "The Age of Not Believing." Accordingly, he is initially cynical and disbelieving of Miss Price's magical efforts, but comes around as time goes on; it is at his initial suggestion that Ms. Price uses the Substitutiary Locomotion spell on the museum artifacts.,
Cindy O'Callaghan as Carrie Rawlins. Slightly younger than Charlie, she takes on a motherly attitude toward her brothers, especially Paul. She is the first to encourage a friendly relationship between Miss Price and the children.,
Roy Snart as Paul Rawlins. Paul is about six; his possession of the bedknob and the Isle of Naboombu children's book lead to the group's adventures as well as the eventual solution to the quest for the Substitutiary Locomotion spell. Paul is prone to blurting out whatever is on his mind, which occasionally leads to trouble.,
Roddy McDowall as Mr. Rowan Jelk, the local clergyman. Deleted scenes reveal Mr. Jelk to be interested in marrying Miss Price, largely for her property.,
Sam Jaffe as the Bookman, a mysterious criminal also in pursuit of the Substitutiary Locomotion spell. It is implied that there is some history and bad blood between him and Mr. Browne.,
Bruce Forsyth as Swinburne, a spiv and associate of the Bookman's who acts as his muscle.,
Tessie O'Shea as Mrs. Jessica Hobday, the local postmistress of Pepperinge Eye and chairwoman of the War Activities Committee.,
John Ericson as Colonel Heller, leader of the German raiding party which comes ashore at Pepperinge Eye.,
Reginald Owen as Major General Sir Brian Teagler, commander of the local Home Guard.,
Arthur Gould-Porter as Captain Greer, a British Army captain who becomes lost in the area. He is constantly running into locals who suspect him of being a Nazi in disguise.,
Hank Worden as Old Home Guard Soldier (uncredited),
Cyril Delevanti as Elderly farmer,
Lennie Weinrib as King Leonidas and Secretary Bird. The king is a lion, and a devoted soccer player with a fearsome temper, as well as a notorious cheater who is known to make up the rules of soccer as he goes along - according to Paul's book. His Secretary Bird is a prim and proper type who often bears the brunt of the king's temper.,
Dallas McKennon as Bear. The Bear is a sailor and fisherman on the Isle of Naboombu who pulls the bed, with Miss Price's group on it, out of the lagoon with his fishing pole, and takes them to see the King after warning them of his temper.,
Bob Holt as Codfish, a denizen of the Naboombu lagoon.,
Leslie Caron, Lynn Redgrave, Judy Carne, and Julie Andrews were all considered for the role of Eglantine Price before the Disney studio decided on Angela Lansbury.David Tomlinson replaced Ron Moody as Emelius Brown due to Moody's busy schedule.
Filming took place at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. The castle scenes were shot on location at Corfe Castle, Dorset, England.
The armor used for the climactic battle against the Nazis had been assembled in Spain for the movie El Cid and was later shipped to Burbank for use in the movie Camelot before being rented for this film.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks was originally intended to be a large-scale epic holiday release similar to Mary Poppins, but after its premiere, it was shortened from its two and a half-hour length (while the liner notes on the soundtrack reissue in 2002 claims it was closer to three hours) to a more manageable (to movie theatres) two hours. Along with a minor subplot involving Roddy McDowall's character, three songs were removed entirely, and the central dance number "Portobello Road" was shortened by more than six minutes.
Although the musical score was recorded in stereo, and the soundtrack album was presented that way, the film was released in mono sound.
The movie was reissued theatrically in 1979, with a lower time of 96 minutes, with all songs, excluding "Portobello Road" and "Beautiful Briny Sea", being muted out.
Home media releases:
The film has been released for home several times on VHS and DVD. Upon rediscovering the removed song "A Step in the Right Direction" on the original soundtrack album, Disney decided to reconstruct the film's original running length. Most of the film material was found, but some segments of "Portobello Road" had to be reconstructed from work prints with digital re-coloration to match the film quality of the main content. The footage for "A Step in the Right Direction" was never located. As of 2009, it remains lost, and it is believed that the footage was possibly destroyed. A reconstruction of "A Step in the Right Direction", using the original music track linked up to existing production stills, was included on the DVD as an extra to convey an idea of what the lost sequence would have looked like. The edit included several newly discovered songs, including "Nobody's Problems", performed by Lansbury. The number had been cut before the premiere of the film. Lansbury had only made a demo recording, singing with a solo piano because the orchestrations would have been added when the picture was scored. When the song was cut, the orchestrations had not yet been added; therefore, it was finally orchestrated and put together when it was placed back into the film.
The soundtrack for some of the spoken tracks was unrecoverable. Therefore, Lansbury and McDowall re-dubbed their parts, while other actors made ADR dubs for those who were unavailable. Even though David Tomlinson was still alive when the film was being reconstructed, he was in ill-health, and unavailable to provide ADR for Emelius Browne.
Some of the alternate actors that re-dubbed the newly inserted scenes had questionable likenesses to that of the original voices (the postmistress, for example, had a British regional accented voice that changed from Welsh to Scottish and back again on the reconstructed scenes). Elements of the underscoring were either moved or extended when it was necessary to benefit the new material. The extended version of the film was released on VHS and DVD on March 20, 2001, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the film. The reconstruction additionally marks the first time the film was presented in stereophonic sound. A new edition called Bedknobs and Broomsticks: Enchanted Musical Edition was released on DVD on September 8, 2009. This new single-disc edition is an identical transfer to the 30th Anniversary Edition, dropping the Scrapbook and Film Facts to make room for a Wizards of Waverly Place Special Effects featurette and a The Suite Life of Zack & Cody Blu-ray infomercial. The Sherman Brothers Featurette, the lost song "A Step in the Right Direction" and most of the other bonus features are retained from the previous edition.
The movie was released on Special Edition Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD on August 12, 2014, in its 117 minute General Release Version, with the deleted scenes used in the previous reconstructed version presented in a separate section on the disc.
Awards and nominations:
The film received five Academy Award nominations and won one.
29th Golden Globe Awards
Best Actress - Musical or Comedy
44th Academy Awards
Best Visual Effects
Alan Maley, Eustace Lycett, Danny Lee
Best Costume Design
Best Art Direction
John B. Mansbridge, Peter Ellenshaw, Emile Kuri, Hal Gausman
Best Original Song
Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman
Best Original Score
Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman, Irwin Kostal
Although the film is in mono sound recording, the songs for the film were recorded in stereo. These songs include:
"The Old Home Guard",
"The Age of Not Believing" (received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song),
"With a Flair" (only in the 2001 reconstruction),
"Don't Let Me Down" (only in the 2001 reconstruction),
"The Beautiful Briny",
"A Step in the Right Direction",
"Nobody's Problems" (only in the 2001 reconstruction),
"Solid Citizen" (replaced by the soccer match),
"Fundamental Element" (sections were incorporated into "Don't Let Me Down"),
It was also released on CD in 2002.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license