It would be easy to dismiss Bedknobs and Broomsticks as a cheap imitation of Mary Poppins. It is a similar tale of a magical woman coming into the life of needy children. There is a roguish fellow along as both a love interest and a bad influence. The film involves a lengthy sequence of pairing live action with animation.
Three important differences help to rescue the film from such a fate. First, the characters are actually quite different. Second, Angela Lansbury is quite capable of competing with Julie Andrews. Third, Nazis.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks holds a special place in my heart because I loved the book when I was a child. Though, oddly, I couldn't tell you any more what the differences between the book and the movie are. It fit in well with other magical British children's fantasies that I loved, such as Narnia and The Borrowers.
For those sadly unfamiliar with the movie, let me set the tale: It's WWII, and children are being evacuated from London to the countryside. A spinster, Eglantine Price, is forced to take in three children. She deeply resents this imposition because she is extremely close to mastering witchcraft so as to assist with the war effort. In order to amuse the children, she gives them an enchanted bedknob that will allow the bed to travel anywhere. However, soon she must beg the children to make use of their magical bed so that she can track down the final spell that she needs.
She finds the headmaster of her magical school, Emelius Brown. Unfortunately, he turns out to be a con man who had no idea he was selling her real spells. Fortunately, he is instantly smitten with her, and agrees to help her track down the spell (which he had not sent her for the simple reason that it was missing from his copy of the spellbook). Wacky adventures ensue. The group recovers the spell just in time, as the Nazis have secretly landed on the very shores of Britain!
The kids are a fantastic mix of streetwise cynicism and childlike faith. Angela Lansbury, of course, turns in a pitch perfect performance as Miss Price. David Tomlinson portrays Emelius Brown, a radically different character from his turn as Mr. Banks. His character arc in particular, both from deceiver to believer and from selfish to selfless, is a wonderful subplot.
I will admit that the animation sequence is not as good as the one from Mary Poppins. However, I feel that that is more than made up for by the remarkable scene of the Nazi soldiers facing off against a magical army! Once again, Disney proves that they really get how to make magic magical. It doesn't have to make sense. It just has to be wonderful.
Of course, you can't look past the songs. The Sherman Brothers were certifiable geniuses. I still have trouble cutting up mushrooms without humming Portobello Road. You can go to bottom of The Beautiful Briny, or fire up some Substitutiary Locomotion. But the one that always gets to me, and that I think is a crime that it's not part of Disney's standard rotation, is The Age of Unbelieving:
I do miss the stuffed alligator, though.