With a script written by director Ken Hughes and the great children’s author Roald Dahl, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is no Oscar-winning drama or beautiful piece of cinematic art; it’s a fun, kid-friendly romp and an entertaining bit of nostalgia from my and my parents’ childhoods. It’s not quite on the level of Mary Poppins, but it’s in the same vein of musical rollick through the imagination. Based off the book by Ian Fleming (yes, that Ian Fleming), the film’s focus on two children, songs written by the Sherman brothers, and the presence of Dick Van Dyke may make it seem like a Mary Poppins wannabe, but it’s an imaginative classic in its own right.
Like Poppins’ Bert, the role of Caractacus Potts puts Dick Van Dyke in his element, sprightly dancing, vivid imagination, and lovable chemistry with the two kids. The film’s plot is rather thin, to be honest, but the characters and songs fill it with charm. Baron Bomburst is made hilariously childish by Gert Fröbe (a.k.a. Goldfinger; the James Bond tie-ins continue; Albert Broccoli produced as well), and Robert Helpmann is genuinely frightful as the wicked Child Catcher. Did I mention Benny Hill is in it too?
Though some critics were rather harsh toward them, the Sherman brothers’ musical numbers are especially memorable. The title song is one of those classic 1960s tunes that easily get stuck in one’s head, but then again, so are most of them. “Posh!” puts Lionel Jeffries’ distinctive voice to good use, and “The Roses of Success” is a catchy little motivational speech. While “Hushabye Mountain” is a sweet lullaby (used in a much darker scene in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds), my favorite is “Me Ol’ Bamboo,” which easily matches Van Dyke’s energy in Poppins’ “Step in Time.” “Toot Sweets” probably has the best choreography though. The Bombursts’ “Chu-Chi Face” is the only song that serves little to no purpose and definitely could have been cut.
Much of the film’s appeal is for children and those who fondly remember seeing it as children. It’s certainly not perfect. The “magic” of bluescreen is obvious in the driving scenes, and the other special effects are lacking as well, though Mr. Potts’s inventions are fascinating to look at. Portions of the story within the plot are overly silly too, such as the bumbling spies sent to capture the car, who might as well be called the Two Stooges.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang may not be award-worthy or deep in any meaningful sense, but it’s the kind of innocent, nostalgia-generating tale that isn’t made anymore. Kids’ movies nowadays have to include talking animals or constant explosions or toilet humor or pop culture references to hold their attention; this film succeeds with its own earnestness and inventive sense of fun. Which do you think is better?Best line: (old inventor #1, describing to Grandpa the realities of working for Baron Bomburst) “They have terrible tortures: the thumb-screw, the rack….” (old inventor #2) “They stretch you and streeeetch you.” (unusually tall inventor #3, walking up) “When I first got here, I was a midget.”
Artistry: 5 Characters/Actors: 8 Entertainment: 9 Visual Effects: 3 Originality: 9 Watchability: 9 Other (memorable music): +3 TOTAL: 46 out of 60
Next: #160 – Monsters, Inc.
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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