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“Near, far, in a motorcar
Oh what a happy time we’ll spend
Bang-Bang Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Our fine four-fendered friend,
Bang-Bang Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Our fine four-fendered friend!”
– Lyrics from the titular song
This movie is a ripoff.
It’s not uncommon for some films, particularly nowadays, to be made solely to cash in on recent trends or piggyback on the success of other films by recycling certain elements. You’d be surprised, however, to find that some of the most beloved movies of all time are no different. When Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released in 1937, no less than three fantasy films that came out around that time were inspired by or tried to copy from it – Fox’s Shirley Temple musical “The Blue Bird”, Fleischer Studios’ animated musical adaptation of “Gulliver’s Travels”, and yes, even The Wizard of Oz are all guilty of trying to be like Snow White. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is no exception to this. It was made and released during the 1960’s, a golden age for musicals both on stage and screen.
And what was one of the biggest musicals to come out at that era, beloved by both families and critics, winning Oscars for its charming lead and catchy songs and is considered a classic to this day?
So imagine you’re an executive or producer at United Artists, and you’re probably wondering, how can we capitalize off of this? Let’s start by basing it off a beloved children’s book-
– set it in 1900’s England –
– get the same lead actor –
– the same songwriters and composer –
– not the same lead actress because she was smart enough to notice how similar the parts are but get one nearly as good –
– add two cute children –
– an eccentric old adventurer –
– put something in the plot about having a complete family –
– and heck, let’s even throw in some of the same choreography –
And we have our movie.
All this may look like I’m hating on the film because it’s so similar to Mary Poppins, but honestly, nothing could be farther from the truth. I probably wouldn’t even be reviewing this movie if I didn’t like it. I genuinely enjoy Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Its music and characters and adventures and overall innocent and childlike tone all take me back to being a kid again. I just wanted to address the elephant in the room first instead of going back and forth to it during the review.
Some of you may be surprised that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was based on a book, and there’s quite an interesting story to that. The author was none other than Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, and it was a gift from him to his son. You see, he was so caught up in writing the exploits of the world’s greatest fictional spy that he tended to overlook his family, and one day his young boy flat-out told him “You love James Bond more than me.” Fleming really took that to heart, and as a way of apologizing, wrote him a story that they could read together. I can’t really compare the book and the movie as I’ve never read it, but from what I’ve heard they’re completely different (not to mention the movie’s popularity has all but eclipsed the book, so I can’t think of anyone I know who has actually read it.)
And to bring the whole James Bond connection full circle, the film was produced by Albert Cubby Broccoli (who also produced the James Bond franchise), and the screenplay was penned by legendary children’s author and screenwriter of “You Only Live Twice”, Roald Dahl.
There’s a minute of the sounds of cars revving up and cheering crowds played over black to get us in the mood for racing…which is kind of a misdirection seeing how racing doesn’t come into play at all beyond the opening credits. Still, I love the music, which is an upbeat march version of the main theme song. The credits roll over a montage of old-timey automobile races sometime during the early 1900’s.
One shiny car from England seems to excel, winning race after race until one nasty crash takes it out of commission. Now the driver crashed because he was trying to avoid a child that wandered out on to the track, but what are the odds of something like this happening after such a winning streak? I suspect sabotage! And I think we all know who would have the most to gain from having a lead competitor eliminated from a great race…
The car winds up in a junkyard where two children, Jeremy and Jemimah, come to play with it often. One afternoon, however, the car is sold as scrap metal to a nameless character that I like to call Obligatory Minor Kid’s Movie Antagonist, or OMKMA for short. OMKMA relishes in telling the horrified children about how the car is going to be shredded to pieces and melted for no other reason than to be a jerk. They ask him to stop as it’s scaring the poor car, and the car itself seems to shake in fear. This raises a question that I’ll go into more detail about later.
Feeling sorry for the kids, the junk man tells Jeremy and Jemimah that if they can give him the same amount of money that OMKMA paid for the car before he comes to pick it up in three days, they can have it. The kids are convinced that their father will have the money and they run home to ask him. On the way they cross the path of a woman driving an automobile and she swerves into a pond so she doesn’t run them over.