BedknobscoverGrade: B-/C+
Entire family: Yes
1971, 117 min., Color
Disney
Rated G
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD Copy
Bonus features: C+
“Portobello Road” clip

It’s Disney, it has magic in it, but for me it would be a stretch to call Bedknobs and Broomsticks magical. Hollywood has a name for when studios try to capture lightning in a bottle twice. It’s called a “sequel,” and at times this 1971 blend of live action and animation feels like one, or a throwback to Disney features like The Love Bug. That said, this film has a dedicated bunch of fans that will be tickled to get it on Blu-ray, finally, and nostalgia is a powerful draw.

Still, how you respond to this film most likely will depend upon your age and whether you’re a fan of Mary Poppins. Why? Because critics and audiences have compared the two from the beginning, and not without cause.

Mary Poppins, which played in theaters seven years earlier and was as big of an event as Hollywood had seen, received 13 Oscar nominations and won for Best Actress, Best Editing, Best Song, Best Score, and Best Special Visual Effects. Meanwhile, Bedknobs and Broomsticks earned five nominations and only won for Best Special Visual Effects.

There’s no solace to be taken in the source materials, either, because P.L. Travers published the first of eight Mary Poppins books in 1934, while Mary Norton’s The Magic Bed Knob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons and Bonfires and Broomsticks followed in 1943 and 1945. Then there’s the box office. Bedknobs reportedly cost $20 million to make and only returned $17.9 on the investment; Mary Poppins cost $6 million to make and grossed $102.3 million.  

BedknobsscreenIt probably didn’t help that Disney used some of the same film crew to make Bedknobs, including the same director (Robert Stevenson), art director (Peter Ellenshaw), music director (Irwin Kostal), and songwriters (Dick and Bob Sherman). There’s even some cast crossover, with David Tomlinson (Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins) playing the male lead in Bedknobs—a sidekick role to a magical lady that viewers recognized as the “Burt figure” Dick Van Dyke played in Mary Poppins. Nor does it make Bedknobs stand out as unique in any way when the setting is once again London, children are taken on an adventure by an older woman not their mother, they witness (and participate in) extended dance sequences, and they visit a cartoon world in mid-movie.

Julie Andrews was even considered for the role of witch Eglantine Price, which really would have made this live-action/animation blend feel like a Mary Poppins sequel. Instead, the studio opted for Angela Lansbury (Murder, She Wrote).

But there are far too many echoes of Mary Poppins and other Disney animated features in this musical-comedy-adventure to review it without making comparisons. Poppins had the “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” song, and the Sherman brothers give Bedknobs another language tune: “Substitutiary Locomotion.” The lion king this group encounters in the animated land of Naboombu (where a soccer match takes the place of the horse race) looks remarkably like Prince John from Disney’s Robin Hood, and other characters will evoke similar memories.

The point is, Bedknobs feels unoriginal, and it suffers from comparison. If you could somehow block out those points of comparison and evaluate it on its own, Bedknobs and Broomsticks would probably fare better. My daughter saw Mary Poppins first but preferred Bedknobs and Broomsticks as a nine year old. Now, as a ‘tween, she likes Mary Poppins but isn’t crazy about Bedknobs. That tells me this film might have the most appeal for families with young children.

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