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Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

Updated: Jul 27, 2022

Miss Price (Angela Lansbury) is an apprentice witch who has struggled with magic, but is finding her way. While she watches over three young children–Charlie (Ian Weighill), Carrie (Cindy O’Callaghan), and Paul (Roy Snart)–she realizes that her abilities can be far more useful than she had ever imagined. With the help of the children and a wizard con man, Emelius (David Tomlinson), Miss Price believes that she can help to defend Great Britain from the Axis Powers of World War II. Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a story of innocence and magic taken to a degree never seen before.

New Historicism is defined as “a form of literary theory which aims to understand intellectual history through literature and literature through its cultural context...” The theory was first introduced in the 1980’s, but it has been my favorite literary theory since my undergraduate years in the early 2010’s. The melding of fiction and non-fiction has fascinated me and allowed me to better appreciate both the history and the literature in which it occurs. Bedknobs and Broomsticks was released somewhere around a decade before the literary theory was first recognized, but the reality is that the entirety of the film falls within the field of the immensely interesting theory. As witches and wizards meet World War II, the aforementioned tragedy is twisted into something mystical and uniquely animated. Bedknobs and Broomsticks possesses levels of entertainment as a result of its inclusion of this particular literary theory (regardless of the fact that the theory hadn’t yet existed).

Lansbury and Tomlinson had established themselves well in Hollywood prior to the production of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and audiences knew going in that these two individuals would hold up their end of the cinematic bargain. They live up to their respective hype and entertain from their first moments on screen; but this is no surprise. The surprise is the young talent that steals the show and manages to outshine the wonderfully talented Lansbury and Tomlinson. Weighill and O’Callaghan are fun and talented, but it’s the unassuming Snart that shines so magnificently throughout the course of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. His face is so impressively expressive that viewers have no choice but to instantly fall in love with him and appreciate all that he brings to the film. Spoiler alert: Snart never appeared in another film, making Bedknobs and Broomsticks his singular performance other than television commercials. He, after his stellar performance in this live-action animated film, deserved more opportunities, as it seems impossible for viewers not to appreciate what he brought to the table.

I cannot honestly think of a time when I questioned the ability of the Walt Disney Animation Studios, as finding flaws in their design is often difficult. Bedknobs and Broomsticks is no exception, as every second of animation is flawless. Disney, in typical Disney fashion, creates a semi-fictional world that appeals to all and is endlessly impressive. The combination of live-action and animation immerses viewers in a beautiful world; and even I, a skeptic of musicals, was able to look past the musical numbers and appreciate the visuals that played out in front of me.

Disney has often done well to make meta references to its many entities, but never before had I seen a Disney film that managed to incorporate elements from numerous Disney films (i.e. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Mary Poppins) but also play an integral role in inspiring future Disney properties including The Lion King and Robin Hood. Bedknobs and Broomsticks, as entertaining as the entirety of the film is, finds most of its success in its ability to be both nostalgic and predictive in its animated scenes. The combination of old and new is incredible, and is an unsung success of Disney’s repertoire.

There are some questionable aspects of Bedknobs and Broomsticks that may frustrate viewers, but I didn’t feel that they ruined the film. Those aspects? Subtle misogyny and unwarranted kindness toward Nazi’s. Surely odd traits, but minor nonetheless.

What can one expect when going into a Disney film for the first time? Well, the majority may say to expect above-average acting, impeccable animation, and a unique storyline; with Bedknobs and Broomsticks viewers get just that. As a self-declared hater of musicals who typically struggles to see the allure present in films of that nature, I was able to look past the musical aspects of the film and appreciate just about everything else. Sure, the musical numbers and some of the silliness present caused me to reevaluate my take on the film, but as a whole, the film is an immense success. Everything that is done right throughout the course of the film is done nearly perfectly, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks finds success as a result.

Directed by Robert Stevenson & Ward Kimball.

Written by Ralph Wright, Ted Berman, Bill Walsh, Don DaGridi, Mary Norton, & Ken Anderson.

Starring Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson, Roddy McDowall, Sam Jaffe, John Ericson, Bruce Forsyth, Cindy O’Callaghan, Roy Snart, Ian Weighill, etc.




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