Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Special Edition, on DVD
Whod have thunk that Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, wrote a classic
childrens book? And whod have thunk that Albert R. Broccoli, producer
of James Bond movies, would have brought the book to the big screen?
Well it happened, and Broccoli really pulled out all the stops to bring the
tale of an inventor, his family, and their flying car, to the movies. He hired
an Oscar-winning songwriting team, acclaimed author Roald Dahl to co-write the
script, and top notch acting talent led by the great Dick Van Dyke.
So why does the film not quite work?
We arent sure.
There seems to be something missing, a spark perhaps, the same
sort of thing that made Mary Poppins great but Doctor
Doolittle and Chitty merely good.
Still, one cant complain too much about it merely being good instead
of great, and this movie is, indeed, good entertainment for the whole family.
Van Dyke is Caractacus Potts, zany inventor of Rube Goldberg-like devices (among
many other things). His inventions seem more interesting than workable, but
thats okay - he means well (and isnt that all that counts?). He
lives on a farm with his two charming kids, a male and a female, and Grandpa
Potts (wonderfully played by Lionel Jeffries).
The kids are used to playing in an old junker of a race car at a nearby junkmans,
but when the junkman sells the car and the new owner is going to have it crushed,
they run home to cajole dad into buying the car for them.
Alas, Potts is more inventor than businessman and hes broke - but he
has one creation, a candy confection you can use as a whistle, that he thinks
has commercial potential. The local candy tycoon, Lord Scrumptious (James Robertson
Justice), however, isnt impressed, especially when the Toot Sweet
turns out to attact dogs, huge numbers of which converge on his factory and
wreak all kinds of havoc.
Meanwhile, the kids have befriended Lord Scrumptious daughter, Truly
(Sally Ann Howes) and though they get off on the wrong foot it isnt hard
to see that Truly and Caracticus will eventually fall in love. They have to!
Its that kind of movie!
To make whats actually an overlong story short (maybe thats one
of the movies problems: its too long, or at least it seems
too long), Potts buys the car and works his creative magic on it. The result
is a lovely motor vehicle that, until we enter a long fantasy segment, seems
to have a single claim to fame: it makes a funny Chitty, Chitty
noise, followed by a couple of backfires.
But there just happens to be that long fantasy sequence coming., and it seems
to come out of left field and is likely to confuse the kiddies as to whats
the real story and whats the story in the story.
Hell, were supposedly grownups and we had trouble
The fantasy, a tall tale recounted by Potts at a seaside picnic, involves the
evil Baron Bomburst (Gert Frobe, in a real departure from his famous role as
Goldfinger). Bomburst has banned children from his kingdom and runs whats
basically a crummy place to be - though its certainly beautiful!
This fantasy element starts out like a pirate story but ends up being a rescue
mission. Baron Bomburst wants Chitty (and who wouldnt?) and, thinking
hes kidnapping the inventor, ends up bagging Grandpa instead. So Potts
and Truly and the two kids take off (literally, kind of) in Chitty, heading
to Bomburst's land of Vulgaria to rescue Grandpa.
Once there, the kids get napped by the kingdoms wicked Childcatcher,
while Potts and Truly are aided in their now triple rescue attempt by the local
toy maker (Benny Hill, believe it or not, and hes very good).
Its all quite predictable, yet entertaining enough.
We wonder why director Ken Hughes allowed Van Dyke not to use a British accent.
He sounds American, yet the kids and Grandpa (and everyone around them who isn't
a Vulgarian) are obvious Brits. When Van Dyke played Bert in Mary Poppins, he
put on a workable accent, though he did take some heat about it back then if
memory serves us. But it did make him more believable in the context of the
movie; having one American accent in a sea of Brtis may have been one thing
that helped destroy of suspension of disbelief.
But overall, the cast is excellent - we especially enjoyed Jeffries who, according
to Van Dyke in one of the extra featurettes, was actually younger than his supposed
son. Howes is pretty and has good presence and is a lovely songbird. Frobe seems
out of place, but maybe its just us and our "typecasting" of him as Goldfinger.
The songs are good, too, and besides the title tune include the dance number
"Me Old Bamboo", "Toot Sweet", our favorite "P O S H, and the syrupy "Truly
Well, even with its warts its still nice to see a family film with no
bathroom humor (except, perhaps, for Grandpas office), no overt sex and/or
violence, and that childlike innocence that seems so rare these days.
MGM has given Chitty a really nice DVD presentation with this Special Edition.
Its a two disc set that includes both anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible)
and Pan&Scan. Theyre on opposite sides of the same disc, which is
fine unless you cant read the little red letters around the spindle hole
that tell you which versions which.
The picture features a new digital high definition transfer, and the quality
is excellent. The image is sharp (so sharp you can pick out the flaws in the
1968-vintage special effects, unfortunately!), and colors are wonderfully bright
Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, supposedly. We dont recall hearing
anything from the rear channels, but the front three channels are used very
well. The orchestra is spread nicely across the front stage and the overall
audio quality is very good considering the 1960s-era analog origins.
Extras abound on the two disc set. Disc one features the movie as well as a
trailer for Chitty the musical (which actually looks pretty good)
and a singalong feature which basically gives you karaoke-like captions you
can use to accompany the many songs with your own particular brand of warbling.
Disc two has plenty more truly scrumptious stuff. Perhaps best is Remembering
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang a retrospective featuring Dick Van Dykes
fond memories. Theres also a featurette A Fantasmagorical Motorcar"
on the actual car used in the film.
Lesser features, but which are still worth seeing, include a read-along featurette,
demos of the Sherman Brothers' (who also did Mary Poppins) songs, another featurette,
this one called "The Ditchling Tinkerer," a vintage interview with Dick Van
Dyke, The Potts Children's featurette, a gallery of vintage advertising,
interactive games, and DVD ROM stuff.
And the package itself includes a 32 page book version of the story.
Its a very full package and a very good DVD. We only wish the movie were
truly more scrumptious.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Special Edition DVD, from MGM Home Entertainment
145 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.20:1, 16x9 TV compatible)/Pan&Scan, Dolby
Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes, Lionel Jeffries
Produced by Albert R. Broccoli
Written by Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes, Directed by Ken Hughes
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