Man, did these two great film companies love to copy each other, when it came to live action movie Musicals that made them a success.
In 1939, MGM gave us one of the best musical fantasy's of all time...
that was praised for its creative story; charming characters; memorable house hold songs; a wonderful fantasy look and feel; and serving us a great moral that "There's no place like home".
In 1961, as Disney was still trying to find their own style at making live action movie musicals, (While planing on making a live action Oz movie musical) they gave us...
and while not a bad film, you can tell that Disney was trying really hard to duplicate MGM's "Wizard Of OZ", with the style, look, and music, as well as having one of the stars from "The Wizard Of OZ", which of course was a failed attempt, despite the good stuff that the film had.
In 1964, Disney finally found their own style at creating live action movie musicals with...
and it became just as a hit and an instant classic as MGM's "Wizard Of OZ". with the songs; characters; special effects; and story.
Due to the overwhelming popularity of Disney's "Mary Poppins". MGM in 1968, tried to make their attempt at duplicating Disney's "Mary Poppins", by making it a fantasy about a Father and his two children who live in England in the year 1910 (Which is a similar setting and idea to "Mary Poppins"); hiring the two songwriters that wrote the music for "Mary Poppins"; and having Dick Van Dyke (Who Co-Starred in "Mary Poppins") as the film's star. That film is...
Based on a children's book written by Ian Fleming (Who wrote the 007 books), and the screenplay being written by famous children's author Ronald Dahl; a destroyed race car is about to be turned into scrap metal, and two poor children who have grown attached to the car, ask their Father (Dick Van Dyke) who is a hapless inventor to buy the car. Van Dyke agrees, but has to figure out how to get the money. Dyke tries to use his inventions to help him get the money, but they keep failing, but after accidentally running on a carnival stage during a song and dance act, Van Dyke (Despite not being questioned by the other dancers on the stage of why he's there, or how he manages to get his own solo, to a song that he doesn't know) becomes the hit of the act, and gains enough money to buy the car through the amount of tips he's earned. While on the journey to buy the car, Van Dyke meets a rich woman named Truly (Sally Ann Howes) who's against how Van Dyke raises his kids, to later on forming a relationship with her. After buying the car, Van Dyke has successfully refurbished the car and he, his children, and Truly head out to the beach. Ok, the plot seems simple enough, however, that's only the film's first hour, and we haven't even gotten to the magical stuff yet! The plot then suddenly changes to a whole new direction as Van Dyke tells his kids a story, about an evil Baron, who wants the car that he fixed, which also happens to be a magical car that can fly, float, and even have a mind of its own (Which that feature by the way, is very downplayed). The Baron sends his two spies to get him the car, but the spies accidentally kidnap Van Dykes Father (Lionel Jeffrries) thinking that he's the inventor who built the car. The gang tracks down Van Dyke's Father, and are lead to the fictional country of
Before I talk about the characters, songs, and such, I think its best that I talk about two of the main problems that I have with the film. The first problem is, the film does indeed fall under the shadow of "Mary Poppins", and anyone who saw "Mary Poppins", can easily pick up on the similarities when it comes to style, look, songs, casting, and character. However, the main problem that I have with the film isn't just the fact that the film falls under the shadow of "Mary Poppins", but the fact that all the fantasy stuff that happens in the second half of the movie is all made up. Yeah, when you really get down to it, all the magical and creative stuff that make the movie a real treat, is actually pointless, goes nowhere, and doesn't even develop our characters nor gives them anything to learn since the fantasy stuff is all just a story. I guess one could make the argument that stories bring people closer together, and that is true, but when a good half of your movie isn’t relevant to the film's actual plot, nor is there a lesson in the story that Van Dyke is telling that will benefit the characters later on in the film (Aside from the kids suggesting that they get married), it just becomes a major tease for how pointless and irrelevant it is. Also looking at the scenes before Van Dyke’s story, you can already sense a good connection between the characters; we don't need him to tell a story to emphasize on their connection. I always felt like all the magical stuff that happens throughout the second half of the film, should have been part of the film's world, instead of being a fantasy that Van Dyke tells, because I do think all the magical stuff can fit within in the films "Real World" since the film's "Real World" feels just as fantasized as the films "Made Up World". It would be an odd change of plot, especially since some of the fantasy stuff that happens in the film's "Made Up World" just comes out of the blue and is briefly explained why this stuff is happening (like the sudden appearance of the film's main villain, and how the car suddenly has all these gadgets, despite Van Dyke never putting any special gadgets in there as he fixed the car, for example) but with thoughtful writing and proper development, it can be achieved. Now don't think that I don't enjoy the films "Made Up World" because I do. I think it's really fun, creative, entertaining, as all these ideas blend together well, but since all the stuff that happens in the second half of the film (Not counting the ending that happens in the film's "Real World") is all made up, it becomes a major let down, especially when being the part of the film where things get really good, and that aspect of the film has always bugged me since childhood.
Getting to our characters, most of them are a lot of fun. Dick Van Dyke as the Father is great. Despite being a workaholic who's irresponsible for his kids and can at times be very rude, there's still a likable innocence to the character. Also despite poorly raising his children, he still loves them dearly, and will try whatever he can to get them the car, even going as far as fixing it once he gets it. Van Dyke is even just as funny and energetic as he was in "Mary Poppins", and you never get the impression that he's just doing it for the money, you can tell that he's putting a lot of effort and heart into his performance, especially when he dances. I think his best scene is when he disguises himself as a Puppet (Though, I find it weird that not one thought he was a human, because of the fact that there are no strings attached to him, but I guess that's part of the film's fantasy charm) because the way he moves is so puppet like that it's very impressive. Despite the film taking place in England and the fact that Van Dyke's character is English, he has no English accent at all, nor does he try. The reason of course is because of the amount of criticism he got for his cockney accent in "Mary Poppins", and I don't know which is worse; him having a bad cockney accent, or his character being English and yet having no English accent at all? Either way, bad accent or no accent at all, he's still a delight to watch.
Sally Ann Howes as Truly...Truly Scrumptious (Ronald Dahl gave her the name, but the name does sound very Ian Fleming-ish) is just as likable and innocent as Van Dyke is, and the relationship between her and Van Dyke's family is done very well, and even without the films "Made Up World", you can still see the connection despite the small amount of time that they give them in the films “Real World”. Lionel Jeffrries as the Grandpa is just as fun as Van Dyke is, as this crazy ex-British Soldier and every scene he's in, he owns, and despite not being all there, he still has enough sense to help Van Dyke take care of the children. The funny thing is, the actor himself despite looking like an old man, is only a year older than Van Dyke, which is quite surprising. There's also the Vulgarian Toy Maker played by Benny Hill, and while he does a good job at playing his character, as well as the film not having him resort to his comical trademarks which shows that he can do great without, is it just me, or does the character remind you a lot of Geppetto from the animated Disney flick "Pinocchio"? Rip off, or not, he's still good as the character. I also enjoy watching James Robertson Justice as Truly's hot headed Father, he too is always fun to watch. The only downside when it comes to the films supporting characters are sadly the children. The film sugar coats them so much that it gets annoying. Like there's nothing subtle about them, every scene you see them in, they're always acting hyper and yell and scream in those annoying British accents. The kids in "Mary Poppins" for example, were likable because they weren't sugar coated to the point where it got annoying, they did seem like real kids, as well as having legit looking emotions. Even the kids in "Bedknobs And Broomsticks" despite not being good actors, were more believable and less annoying compared to these kids. If you think I'm finding them annoying right now as an adult, you're wrong, because I was annoyed by them when I was a kid as well, and I'm not sure if I should blame the actors (Who do seem like decent actors, and could give a good performance if the overly cute factor was toned down) or the director (Who apparently doesn't like children, and yet he's directing a children's movie). Aside from the kids, the rest of the supporting cast is great.
The Sherman Brothers (Who again wrote the songs for "Mary Poppins") are great songwriters, and there is a good amount of great songs that this movie has, while sadly also having some songs that aren't that good. I guess I might as well start out with the songs that I thought weren't good. The musical number "Toot Sweet", while having nice choreography; a creative type of candy; and a funny ending, the song is so annoyingly catchy that to me, it's irritating to the point where it gives me a headache, even as a kid. The villain duet song "Chu-Chi Face" is a funny musical number as the Baron keeps trying to kill the Baroness, but in all honesty, without the visuals and the comedy, it's a pretty annoying and silly song. The song "Truly Scrumptious", I'm kind of mixed about. It's a cutely written song, and when Dick Van Dyke sings it later on in the movie is both charming and funny. Even Howes’ is wonderful at singing it. However, when the kids sing it, it's just as annoyingly sugar coated as the kids are, making the number feel very corny. In fact, they sound kind of creepy when they sing. The worst song in the whole movie, has got to be Truly's song "Lovely Lonely Man". Despite Howes’ great singing voice, the song is so boring, so bland, so forgettable, and so forced into the movie to give Howes her own song, that it does nothing for me. I thought I'd like the song as I got older like the song "Feed The Birds" from “Mary Poppins" for example, but it sadly didn't. Aside from those four songs, the rest of the songs and musical numbers are great and catchy. The film's theme song "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” is so catchy and cute, that it'll never leave you once you hear it, and I mean that in a good way. Even the kids, while still overly sugar coated, somehow manage not to ruin the song at all. I honestly can't put my finger on why though; they just manage to somehow fit with the fun and charm of this catchy song, which is saying a lot. Maybe it's because they don't sound like the Twins from "The Shining" as if they were given a musical number. The Grandpa's song "Posh" is fun and catchy, as well as having some really funny humor as he sings it. The song "The Roses Of Success" as the Grandpa sings with inventors who are held hostage by the Baron, bored me as a kid, but now I love it, and embrace the song's theme of trying and never giving up. The songs that Dick Van Dyke sings to his kids such as "You Two" and "Hushabye Mountain" are very cute and charming songs that Van Dyke manages to sell out, plus showing how much he loves his kids. Though I will admit, the kids’ solos in “You Two” are just as corny, annoying, and creepy as when they sing "Truly Scrumptious". For me, my two favorite songs in the movie are "Me Ol' Bamboo" when Van Dyke accidentally becomes part of a Carnival show and "Doll On A Music Box", as Van Dyke and Truly sneak into the Castle as toys. I know I criticized the "Me Ol' Bamboo" number earlier on in the review, because of how unrealistic it is that Van Dyke becomes part of an act that's he never rehearsed, nor got into any trouble for being in it; however, we just saw workers dancing in a factory, while knowing how to suddenly play a musical candy, as dogs come from miles away to destroy the place. The film's not supposed to be realistic, and considering it being a musical, where people just burst out singing and dancing, a suspension of disbelief is required. Getting back to the song, I love the choreography; I love the music playing in the background; I love the situation that Van Dyke is in; and on top of it, I love how upbeat and catchy the song is. As for the song "Doll On A Music Box", I not only find the song and Howes singing to be enchanting, but her movements is so toy like, that I always find myself being impressed (Which was all done in one take), along with Van Dyke's puppet like dance, and the duet that they share in the number is both funny and beautiful. As for the film's score, what can I say, it help makes the movie. I could honestly listen to instrumental of the film's theme song over and over, just because of how catchy and big it sounds, especially with those loud banging noises.
The effects in this movie actually do hold up really well. Even the green screen effects are good, and even when you can tell that the car and the actors are in front of a green screen, the effect still manages to look good. The film also has good looking sets; the costumes are nice; the Make-Up is great; and the film's cinematography does bring you into the film's world, along with the music. I also really admire the film's innocent humor, which still manage to make me laugh as an adult. In fact, the film itself does have a fun childlike innocence to it, which makes the film very inviting to both kids and adults. The only real dark element in the film is really The Child Catcher, that's it. As for the film's climax in the "Made Up World", without giving it away, it is a a lot of fun with plenty of good entertainment. In fact, the whole film itself is entertaining and fun. When I hear people who enjoy the film and were entertained by it complain about the length of the film, I always wonder how that is a bad thing? Yeah, the longer the film is, the more time you have to find to watch it, and I totally get that. However, as long as the film can grab your attention, entertain you, and get you lost in its world and story, it shouldn't really matter how long the film is. In fact, a lot of great films are over the 2 hour mark, some even around 4 hours; even the Disney classic "Mary Poppins" that this film is ripping the style from, is nearly as long as this film. Despite being a long movie with a pointless second half, I did find myself entertained and enchanted by it from start to finish.
Despite the film ripping off the style of Disney's "Mary Poppins"; having overly cute kids that reach the level of annoyance and creepiness; occasional annoying and bland songs; and above all, making at least 50% of the film not relevant to the film's story at all, I still enjoy it. The characters are all a lot of fun; there's a great handful of songs that are fun to watch and listen too; the effects are good; the jokes are funny; and all the stuff that happens in the film's "Made Up World" are imaginative. The film does have some major problems, but it does have plenty of good things going for it. As a whole, the film is a mixed bag full of things both really good and really bad; however, I still think it's a fun and innocent kids' film that kids in this generation should see.