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|Kevin Krock, editor|
Many of you are probably familiar with the adventures of Miss Eglantine Price, three orphans and Professor Emelius Brown. Bedknobs and Broomsticks is based on the books The Magic Bedknob and Bonfires and Broomsticks by Mary Norton, and follows the group as they try to recover the lost Substitutiary Locomotion spell, in order to use it to defend World War II England from the invading Germans.
You might recognize Eglantine Price, the apprentice, correspondence- course witch as being played by Angela Lansbury, the voice of Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, and Professor Emelius Brown, the correspondence course instructor as being played by David Tomlinson from Mary Poppins.
Their search and attempts at using the spell, make for a fun and enjoyable story that moves along at a pretty reasonable pace. The animated scenes in the middle of the movie feel a bit short in relation to the length of the movie, but they are wonderful examples of the interaction between live- action and animation. I love the designs and variation of the animated animals of the lagoon and Isle of Naboombu, and the soccer game is not to be missed (especially for those with two-year-olds that enjoy naming every animal in the scene!). Just keep in mind that with the movie being over two hours long (137 minutes in this edition), the attention span of a child may affect your ability to enjoy the movie in one sitting.
This 30th Anniversary Edition of the film is actually the fully restored 25th Anniversary Edition that debuted theatrically about five years ago. In fact, some of the supplements and the movie credits still say "25th Anniversary." The biggest difference between this version and earlier versions is that over 20 minutes of the film, including several songs and a portion of the Portobello Road dance sequence, were cut for the original U.S. release in 1971. After the edits, the film ran only 117 minutes, and subsequent theatrical re-releases of Bedknobs and Broomsticks were trimmed down even more. All of this ended up making the story a bit disjointed and difficult to follow.
Fortunately, Scott MacQueen (Disney's Film Archivist) uncovered much of the film that was cut and supervised the restoration. What is presented on the DVD is the entire film reassembled to almost its original running length, with only the film portion of one song still missing. The story now flows nicely, and the added songs are a treat. Even the fairly damaged work print of the previously removed Portobello Road dance scene was restored to the point that it blends quite nicely with the final print. It's great to see that this kind of restoration work can really polish up an already enjoyable movie.
After the year 2000 batch of Gold Collection DVDs, I was seriously concerned that I was going to have to keep my VHS tape collection of Disney movies around forever. However the tide appears to be turning in 2001, and Disney is beginning to provide very nice selections of bonus material on all of their 2001 discs. Now, it isn't the same level as a collectors edition (which I wouldn't expect), but for the most part, it is enough to make you want to upgrade your old videotapes to DVD.
First of all, on Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Disney has provided a couple of classic animated shorts that are a treat to have on DVD. Mickey's The Worm Turns and Donald's The Vanishing Private are both fun and creative, and they look quite good for their age. They've included four theatrical trailers, which is no big surprise, based on previous releases, but they're kind of neat to compare to current trailers--a lot has changed in 30 years! There is also a never-before-seen recording session with David Tomlinson singing "Portobello Road." It is a great little behind-the-scenes glimpse into how the movie was made, but it was a bit short and made me want to see more! Yet another nice addition is a still frame gallery that includes a lot of concept art, advertising and publicity materials.
If those weren't enough, there are two other tidbits that are my favorites. The first is the Music Magic featurette with the Sherman Brothers, Angela Lansbury, and Scott MacQueen. This short, produced for the Disney Channels Vault Disney series, covers everything from the song concepts and development to cut material and the restoration of the film. Even without a running commentary, this short does a great job of summarizing the making of this film.
The other feature was a still shot reconstruction of the deleted song, "A Step in the Right Direction," which sounds an awful lot like "It's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow." I guess when you have a knack for catchy tunes, you use or reuse what works! Although the film portion for this song is missing (or destroyed), the still-frame pictures used here instead make the song-and-dance sequence play like a slide show put to music. Both of these are great additions to the disc, and I'm glad Disney put together such a solid set of bonus material for this DVD.
One other quick point to mention: Disney used to force you to watch or skip through movie previews one by one on all Gold Collector's Edition discs. While they still automatically play if you put the disc in the player and don't do anything, you can now hit the menu key to quickly bypass them! It's a compromise I can live with, since I don't think Disney will eliminate them altogether.
The Video, Audio and Interface...
Disney now seems to embrace the anamorphic widescreen format when it can, and it's a wonderful decision. Providing this enhancement ensures that the disc not only looks good on normal TVs, but looks equally great on a widescreen TV, which we might eventually all have, as digital TV makes greater inroads. Since this movie was fully restored for its 25th anniversary, the DVD transfer looks great. The picture is clean throughout, the colors are vibrant, and the dark scenes are nicely detailed. That's a pretty good feat for a 30- year- old movie! With the exception of the Portobello Road dance sequence, the added film footage visually fits right in with the rest of the film, and I'll never fault a restoration effort for an effort that falls slightly short of perfect. Overall, this is the best looking that I've seen this movie on a small screen.
Because the movie is so long and there are a lot of bonus features, the audio features are pretty minimal. There is only a single English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack, which plays very nicely on a normal stereo or Dolby Surround system. The audio has also been restored, so such things as sound placement, the music, and audio panning effects are very clear.
Regarding the interface, I'd begun to accept the previous boring and static Gold Collection menus on titles like The Aristocats and A Goofy Movie, as their de facto low- end standard, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect on the new releases. When I popped the disc in, I was very pleasantly surprised. There's an introductory animation of the brass bed floating through the ocean to the sea floor, and "The Beautiful Briny" is playing in the background. The screen zooms towards the bedknob and the menu appears. It's a really cute touch. Animated transitions with audio are triggered on most menu selections, and it makes for a visually very enjoyable and well-themed menu system. The selections are easy to read, and the hierarchy is laid out clearly. This makes moving around the disc and finding items of interest easy for all family members.
The Final Evaluation...
As I mentioned earlier, Disney's 2001 DVDs are turning out to be pretty good. Let's hope they keep up the good work. With the enhanced audio and video, a bunch of bonus material, and the convenience of DVD, Bedknobs and Broomsticks ought to be put on your list of VHS tapes to replace with DVD.
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