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Wow, for some ten good years after 1964, every other year a movie would come along to try and replicate the charms of Mary Poppins and its god-tier live action family movie supercalifragilisticexpialidociousness, huh? The quality of these movies were more than a tad uneven... though always with diminishing returns. Come time, even Disney themselves couldn't resist the lure of capturing lightning in a bottle twice. Well, Only the Creator Does It Right, right? Well...
Where Poppins stood tall through several plot-irrelevant musical numbers for sheer confidence in its overarcing message, Bedknobs's overstuffed "Portobello Road" number (which was even cut for time for the theatrical cut) showcases its creators' lack of comprehension—even appreciation—of the inner workings of films such as Poppins. On first watch, it feels overlong... on repeat viewings it just feels like a waste of time that could have been given to fleshing out its ultimately likeable characters and give them a satisfying story arc. Their priorities—such as they are—always seem misplaced.
Much like their animated efforts of the period, the film is brimming with patented Disney charm and whimsy, but lacks heart. Heart over plot was ever dear ol' uncle Walt's fancy; without the former, any potential weakness in the latter become ever so plain to see. It really just goes to show that even if you gather together all the correct ingredients (and they really went for it here; just compare the cast and crew lists of both films) magic won't just magically happen.
This being said... even it can't ever shatter the glass ceiling of its own wasted potential, it's an enjoyable enough movie. Like The Sound of Music before it (there I go comparing it to another classic musical!) it features overtones of legitimately tense wartime occupation not dumbed down for kids in the slightest. Hell, as young as I was when I first watched it (even then I viewed it as a perfectly okay movie; I really only wanted to see the animated parts), it might've been my first exposure to WWII fiction and Nazis. And the last fifteen minutes or so, with its army of magically-reanimated armour bearing down on pants-shitting Jerry, is one of the most awesomely fist-pumping action scenes in any Disney movie, slapstick moments bedamned.
With its slipshod approach to storytelling, Bedknobs ultimately works as a family movie for only half the family (and you can guess which one). It's a good enough time, but of those there are a dime a dozen. And what with the lazy approach Disney has taken to its home video release, you might as well look up the good parts on YouTube and leave it at that. Sure is a good thing Disney never tried to make money by replicating past successes ever again, huh?
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