"You must face the age of not believing, doubting everything you ever knew.
Until at last, you start believing there's something wonderful in you!"
A Disney film from 1971, based on a pair of novels by Mary Norton. The film is often regarded as a Spiritual Successor to Mary Poppins — a live action fantasy musical with a substantial segment incorporating animation, with the same production company, same director, same scriptwriters, same songwriters, one actor in common, etc.It's 1940 in the British coastal village of Pepperinge Eye, and among the children evacuated here from the ongoing London Blitz are three orphaned siblings: Charlie, Carrie, and Paul. They're reluctantly taken in by Miss Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury), a spinster who's secretly taking mail-order witchcraft lessons in hopes of being able to aid the war effort with magic. Miss Price doesn't want the kids and the kids don't want Miss Price, so they try to get rid of each other as quickly as possible. But when the children see her flying on a broom at night, they strike a bargain: in exchange for keeping her secret, the children get to live their lives at Miss Price's home any way they like. To seal the deal, Miss Price gives little Paul a transportation spell which enchants the big bed into a magical travelling bed.When the witchcraft school abruptly closes, leaving Miss Price without the all-important Substitutiary Locomotion spell she needs, she and the children travel to London via bed. They discover the "professor", Emelius Browne, is a fraud who was just selling her the pages of an incomplete spellbook. So begins a greater journey, from the market at Portobello Road to the Isle of Naboombu (land of animated talking animals), in search of the spell. Once Miss Price learns it, she'll have to use its power to bring inanimate objects to life to save her hometown from none other than the Nazis.
Accidentally Broke The Mac Guffin: The characters have retrieved the Star of Astoroth, imprinted with the words for the Substituary Locomotion. But as they arrive home, they find the star has disintegrated during the journey. And it turned out to be unnecessary, as one of the kid's storybooks had an illustration of the star, and more importantly, the words to the spell.
All Witches Have Cats: Miss Price, a witch in training, has a cat named Cosmic Creepers. She's also a spinster according to the old archetype.
Animal Reaction Shot: During the "Substitutiary Locomotion" number, Cosmic Creepers gets several cutaway shots. At one point, he seems to do the cat version of headdesking.
The first flight practice scene also has a number of these.
Animal Stereotypes: The Island of Namboobu is full of these, but the soccer game consists of almost nothing but—the laughing hyena, the temperamental (and arrogant) lion, the ostrich with its head in the sand, the elephant afraid of a mouse, the evil alligator, the cheetah so fast he sets the ground on fire (and who eventually gets his spots blown off)...
Billing Displacement: Roddy McDowall is third-billed and, in the uncut version of the movie, he does indeed play a significant supporting character. However, in the theatrical cut of the movie, his role was reduced to The Guy Who Gets Attacked By Miss Price's Nightgown, but they still billed him right below Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson.
Bowdlerization: The German dub removed much of the Nazi plot and things that relate to WWII, effectively cutting out a whopping 29 minutes of the movie.
The British Empire: The Portobello Road scene features soldiers from all over the Commonwealth dancing, including Sepoys, Jamaicans, Scotsmen, Irishmen and ANZA Cs.
Calvinball: Soccer matches on the Island of Naboombu. "Don't they have no rules?" "'Course they do. King makes 'em up as he goes along."
Can't Take Anything With You: Miss Price goes to the Isle of Naboombu and gets the Star of Astoroth, but once she and her group return home, she realises not only that she couldn't take objects from different worlds, but that she didn't memorize the spell inscribed on the star.
Turns out there's an image of the Star, complete with inscription, in Paul's picture book.
Literally. With some BritishProud Warrior Race porn. They drive off the Germans, however, a bomb blows up and knocks Price off her broom. Before the Germans realize that the armour is inert, the home guard come and force them to retreat.
Carnivore Confusion: The Isle of Naboombu. All the animals are anthropomorphic, but apparently the fish in the lagoon aren't seen as equals to the surface creatures, since the heroes' bed is hauled up to the shore when a bear fisherman's hook catches on to its frame.
Chekhov's Skill: The spell that turns people into rabbits, which Miss Price uses to save her and her companions from the enraged lion ruler of Naboombu. From there, Mr. Browne uses it to sneak into the castle the Nazis lock Miss Price and the kids in.
Circling Vultures: During the animals' soccer game, vultures serve as medics, waiting on the sidelines for the referee (Mr. Brown) to be trampled by the players. A Running Gag is made of them rushing into the field to "treat" Mr. Brown, only to be waved away after he turns out to be alive.
Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Mr. Browne can't use spells himself because, as far as he's concerned, "They're just nonsense words from an old book." At least until near the end of the film when he manages to transform himself into a rabbit.
Contrived Coincidence: The house Professor Browne chose to live in just happened to have a book about the Island of Naboombu in its nursery, the very place his torn book from the marketplace told them they needed to go.
Convenient Decoy Cat: Cosmic Creepers acts as this for Professor Browne when he sneaks into Miss Price's cottage just before the climax—after first drawing the Nazis' attention by making angry growls and yowls at Emelius, he is found by the Nazis amongst the wreckage of the items Browne had knocked over and smashed. They dismiss the noise (until Browne makes more from the next room) and even show affection for the "naughty" cat.
Conveniently Interrupted Document: Miss Price sees Mr. Brown about a spell book. She gets it and reads about the Substitutiary Locomotion spell, but the part where it talks about the incantation used to activate the spell is on a page that got torn out of the book. The group had to go to Portobello Road to look for it.
Correspondence Course: The entire plot is based on Eglantine taking one (in witchcraft!) and needing to finish the final lesson.
Covers Always Lie: On the 30th anniversary DVD cover◊, the taking animals were rendered much bigger than the leads, which could make some believe most if not all of the movie contains animation as opposed to live-action.
Crowd Song: "Portobello Road," to a rather ridiculous extent.
Cute Witch: Miss Price. A bit older than standard, but no less cute.
Cut Song: The film originally ran 139 minutes, but was cut by 22 for its initial theatrical release. Three songs - "A Step in the Right Direction", "With a Flair", and "Nobody's Problems" - were dropped in the process, and others were shortened (in particular, "Portobello Road"). The 1996 restoration used for the laserdisc and DVD releases restored most of the cut material, with the exception of the first song, as that scene had been lost.
The "story and songs" record had "With a Flair" and a full version of "Portobello Road".
Dancing Pants: A whole wardrobe's worth of clothes dance in the "Substitutiary Locomotion" number.
Deadpan Snarker: Miss Price often fills this role, especially with regards to Professor Browne's zaniness. The kids get some snark in at Miss Price's expense at the beginning.
Expy: Astoroth and his star seem to be inspired by the medieval alchemist and magus John Dee. His attempts to make animals sentient, on the other hand (as well as his ultimate fate) are rather reminiscent of Dr. Moreau, only with magic instead of science and (presumably) out of benevolence rather than For Science!.
Immune to Bullets: Since there's no actual living body in the armour animated by Substitutiary Locomotion, being raked by machine guns is but a minor inconvenience. Suits of armour which include greaves and boots do seem to be inconvenienced by the weight of collected rounds, to the point where they halt their advance to disconnect a boot and dump out the bullet fragments. This is a move that drives home the fact that there's no legs in the boots and no hands in the gloves, but there it is. Even hand grenades can't keep one down for long.
Ironic Echo: The exchange between Heller and one of his men, when Miss Price turns up on a broom during the final battle.
It Was with You All Along: The description of the spell turns out to be in an illustration in the picture book Paul finds at Mr. Browne's place and carries with him from that point on. The words couldn't be read there, though.
Limited Wardrobe: The children wear the same clothes for most of the movie, but most of it takes place on the same day and they finally get different clothes in the last scene, which takes place the next day. Still, they seem to have worn their regular outfits for about three days straight, ending with the day most of the movie takes place on.
Given that they were looked-after children in 1939, it's plausible that they actually have only one full set of clothes each.
Literal Ass Kicking: A major part of the comedic tone in the climatic battle. A German soldier removes the upper part of a suit of armour and gets his ass kicked by the lower part. Another soldier gets his ass kicked repeatedly while dangling on a halberd. Another animated suit of armour swings its sword on some fleeing Germans' butts.
Ominous Latin Chanting: Well, it becomes ominous after Eglantine and company quit singing it: Treguna. Macoides. Trecorum. Satis. Dee.
Especially when the animated suits of armour start chanting it. If the Nazis weren't absolutely petrified before, they were after hearing that echo through the air.
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: The Nazi officer speaks fluent German with a strong accent even when speaking English. When he orders his men to fire on the enchanted armour a second time however, his accent sounds very much like how a northerner English man would shout it.
He's shouting "Feuer," pronounced foi-er. It's German for "fire."
Plot Coupon: The heroes first seek the remaining pages of the spellbook; when they find it, they learn it doesn't actually have the words to the Substitutiary Locomotion spell. It does say that the Star of Astoroth has them, so now the quest is to find that and get the spell.
Reality Subtext: Supposedly, "The Age of Not Believing" is "really" about the Disney Company's struggle to continue after the death of Walt Disney.
Road Sign Reversal: Something similar in intention is done by a British villager in the beginning of the film. He's painting out the signposts in order to confuse any possible invading Nazis, but the only people he confuses are two Home Guard Officers.
Say My Name: The song "Eglantine", as sung to her by Mr. Browne, much to her displeasure.
Shaggy Dog Story: The entire Isle of Naboombu subplot is rendered completely pointless once it's discovered that there's a picture of the Star of Astoroth in the book Paul found with the spell inscribed on it, clearly legible.
But then, Charlie had kept telling his little brother to shut up about his stupid book.
Tap on the Head: Two German commandos are knocked unconscious by the animated suits of armour.
Those Wacky Nazis: Variation: the heroine is the Secret Project Leader looking to turn the tide in the war in favour of the British, and the Nazis are flummoxed by her abilities because they don't believe in magic.
Colonel Heller. "Es gibt keine Hexen! (There's no such thing as witches!)" Okay, then how do you explain the floating armour army and the flying lady on a broomstick?
Charlie at the beginning of the movie. Despite his siblings telling him that maybe trying to blackmail a witch is a bad idea, he persists until Miss Price turns him into a toad rabbit. Then, when he transforms back after almost getting attacked by her cat, he tries extortion again.
He did at least learn to be a little more clever about it the second time - rather than demanding she give them something fancy, he makes the deal that they receive a precious object (the travelling spell), and if they break their end of the deal, they have to give the object back. Miss Price even comments that it's an excellent idea.
We Could Have Avoided All This: If they had just listened to Paul he could have told them about the picture of the Star of Ashtaroth in his book and they would have saved themselves a whole lot of trouble.