Skip to main content

MMYIF Magical Nanny Double Feature: Mary Poppins / Bedknobs and Broomsticks

My Misspent Youth In Films...

Mary Poppins
Directed by: Robert Stevenson
Starring: Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke
Released: June 18, 1965

In turn of the century London, a magical nanny employs music and adventure to help two neglected children become closer to their father.


Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Directed by: Robert Stevenson
Starring: Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson
Released: December 13, 1971

An apprentice witch, three kids and a cynical magician conman search for the missing component to a magic spell to be used in the defense of Britain in World War II.

What I Thought Then

For our first ever double-feature, I present two very different musicals about magical women looking after children in England only to take them on a misadventure into a cartoon and have odd run-ins with David Tomlinson. They were a lot of fun with catchy songs and silly characters and just a dash of awe and wonder. These movies were the reason that--as a very young child--I constantly confused Julie Andrews and Angela Lansbury, despite the fact that they look nothing alike and have different-sounding names.

What I Think Now

Both films suffer from the early Disney malady of not having much driving the narrative. They're more a series of charming vignettes, although they manage to each give David Tomlinson a redemption arc, if no one else. Of the two, Mary Poppins has aged far more gracefully. It has a better script and better music. The film is layered with humor for adults, having background plots about the financial stability of England as well as the women's suffrage movement. The presentation of magic is more whimsical than psychedelic. But the real strength is in the lead actors. Andrews is a mountain of on-screen charisma with a dynamite singing voice. Van Dyke, meanwhile, is giving a top-notch clown performance (regrettable accent notwithstanding), and it feels like the two are constantly trying to outdo each other. Their rapport is quite remarkable, as they have a loving relationship that feels less like a romance than like two transient people who recognize each other as kindred spirits that have temporarily fallen into each others' orbits.

I'm amazed at how many little details have stuck with me over the years. For years I have mimicked the laugh that Mary makes when she finds her tape measure without even realizing where it came from. I still remember the jokes from the sequence where Uncle Albert (Ed Wynn, doing his Ed Wynniest) is stuck to the ceiling. I can still remember bits of most of the songs, and some of these are just barn-burners. I mean, who doesn't still remember Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious or Chim Chim Che-ree or Let's Go Fly A Kite? Or, my god, the choreography of Step-In-Time. I was thoroughly entertained.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks doesn't hold up quite as well. And I think the biggest problem is that Lansbury and Tomlinson feel miscast in the leads, which were almost certainly written with younger actors in mind. They're both quite capable, but Lansbury feels too wise and maternal to come across as a bumbling apprentice who doesn't know the first thing to do with these children that have suddenly come under her care. Tomlinson, similarly, is a con artist who has been shirking his responsibilities by choosing not to serve in the second World War, but the man was 54 when this movie came out, so that rings especially false. The cartoon sequence in the middle is interesting enough, I guess. There's a love story subplot between Lansbury and Tomlinson and just shows off how little romantic chemistry the two have. In many ways, it feels like a knock-off of, well... Mary Poppins.

Despite its shortcomings, there are some nice moments. The songs The Beautiful Briney and Portobello Road are both great. The finale, in which a small platoon of Nazis invades the quiet township where Lansbury resides, feels a tad overlong and ponderous, but does feature some of the magical whimsy that we've come to expect from a Robert Stevenson joint. And, you know, defeating the Nazis is always worth watching.

As far as representation goes, these are fifty-year-old Disney movies that are themselves romanticized portrayals of even older times, so they are extremely white and heteronormative. In Mary Poppins, Mr. Banks makes a reference to "red Indians" which would not fly today. Bedknobs and Broomsticks fares slightly better. There's an extended dance sequence in the middle of Portobello Road that features various peoples from throughout the British Empire, including people from India and the Caribbean. While their dancing is certainly on display for its exoticism more than anything else, the movie is celebrating it rather than mocking it, or at least that's how it appeared to me.

Recommendation?

Both are on Disney+, and if you have fond memories, they're not going to disabuse you of them. Mary Poppins in particular took me straight back to my childhood. We watched it with the kids and they loved it. My oldest is already asking to see it again.

Tune in next week to see a chicken run the gauntlet...

In My Misspent Youth In Films, Kurt is going through his the movies he grew up on. Read the explainer or see more posts.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Alexandra Rowland And Bad Faith Accusations

This morning, writing twitter was blown up by a post from Alexandra Rowland accusing Scott Lynch and Elizabeth Bear of some nasty manipulative behavior. I have reason to believe that Rowland is acting in bad faith. Seven or eight years ago, Rowland and I were in the same writing group. I didn't know them well, but we became Facebook friends because that's what you do. At some point after we fell out of contact with each other, they made a post about an affair with an influential older male who had lied about being in an open marriage and proceeded to manipulate and gaslight and emotionally abuse them. I didn't know any of the people involved other than Rowland, but I was affected enough by Rowland’s post that I can still recall reading it all these years later. So when I saw Rowland's blog this morning, I assumed it was the same situation... except the dates weren't right. The Bear/Lynch events took place in 2016, but the post I remembered was older than that. So I

100 Album: "Game Of Thrones Season 3 Soundtrack" by Ramin Djawadi

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the  explainer  or view  the master list . Artist:  Ramin Djawadi Title:   Game Of Thrones, Season 3 Soundtrack Released:  2013 Genre:  DAH duh, duh-duh-DAH duh, duh-duh-DAH duh He's not as big a name as Hans Zimmer or John Williams or the various Newmans out there, but Ramin Djawadi is easily the most interesting composer working in television right now (with due respect to Bear McCreary). Soundtracks, especially television soundtracks because they're produced so quickly, have a tendency to serve more as a wall of atmosphere than anything else. But Djawadi's work here and on Westworld  has generated some amazing musical themes. There's a strong undercurrent of leitmotif informing the way the music flows together and the themes those motifs are built around are damned  catchy--which you know if you got the joke in the genre description above. While all of the soundtracks for GoT  are very listenable, this is m

On Getting Laser Eyes

Last week I got Lasik. I was looking forward to not having to deal with glasses getting smudged by my kids or slipping off my face. I figured that not needing them would be pretty convenient. However, the words I heard over and over from other people who'd already done it were: "life-changing." That seemed to be overstating a bit. Convenient, yes, but life-changing? I didn't get it. I get it now. I've had some kind of vision correction, either glasses or contacts, for the last thirty-odd years, which is nearly as far back as I can remember. And what I hadn't realized was the extent to which this had become part of my identity. It's not that I thought glasses were cool because I wore them--although I did and they are. It's that the ability to see was, for me, artificial and temporary. And my vision was pretty bad, so my natural state was one of... not so much "blindness" as "isolation." There was a layer of vagueness that sat bet