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I’m kind of surprised that I’m reviewing Bedknobs and Broomsticks before the film that was responsible for it in the first place, the one everyone knows and loves – a little movie called Mary Poppins. Everything about Bedknobs and Broomsticks from its conception to creation is inextricably tied to its more popular predecessor. When Walt Disney was still tussling with P.L. Travers over the film rights for Mary Poppins, he sought out the rights to two other books as an alternative. Those stories were Mary Norton’s “The Magical Bedknob” and “Bonfires and Broomsticks” which, by an astounding coincidence, feature a magical woman taking in some children and setting off with them on fantastical adventures. Walt eventually succeeded in getting Mary Poppins on the big screen, and it goes without saying that it was his final crowning achievement, the culmination of every artistic endeavor he undertook over his forty-year career, a joyous musical extravaganza that deserved every award and accolade, and is pretty darn good too. And then he died, leaving behind a directionless studio and some Sideshow Bob-sized shoes to fill.
During that time where the world mourned and the company coasted on the last bit of Walt’s legacy, his brother, Roy O. Disney, remembered they still had the rights to Mary Norton’s books and thought, “Well we had one big hit turning a fantasy story into a big-budget partly-animated musical, why not do it again?” It’s not all that surprising that the studio would try to reproduce Mary Poppins’ success, especially now that they forced to recreate Walt’s brand of magic without him. In fact, they not only brought back a few actors from Mary Poppins and even the same songwriters, The Sherman Brothers, but Julie Andrews was the studio’s first choice to play Eglantine Price! As is often the case, the final product doesn’t fully measure up to the original, and yet…Bedknobs and Broomsticks is still an utterly fantastic film. Much like its heroine, it’s a plucky little feature up against insurmountable odds and its own overwhelming insecurities, but overcomes them both through sheer conviction. Whether its an apprentice witch trying to save her country from war, or a studio rebuilding itself after losing its beloved founder, you gotta love an underdog story. The film boasts a great cast, some memorable songs, phenomenal special effects, and even works as an interesting companion piece to Mary Poppins. Why is that? Well, just in time for its 50th anniversary (give or take a couple of weeks), let’s find out shall we?Continue reading