Let's get this out of the way. The 1968 family musical adventure film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang wins the award for Kid's Movie Title That Most Sounds Like a Porn Movie Title. Awkward segue: I know I'm not supposed to love Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but I can only plead that the heart wants what it wants, and apparently my heart wants to see ineluctably bizarre children's movies that take a hatchet to formula while peppering the screen with all variety of weirdness. There's both a lost innocence and a wrongness about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang that appeal to the kid in me and the mondo-bizarro connoisseur into which I've grown. They don't make 'em like this anymore. And ask yourself, would you rather show your kids Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Marmaduke? I don't want to live in a world where the answer is the latter.
Produced by James Bond co-producer Albert R. Broccoli, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang derives from a children's novel by Bond creator Ian Fleming. With a script credited to Roald Dahl (author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and director Ken Hughes, the film guarantees weirdness. Throw into the mix songwriters Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman (not long after their career high of Mary Poppins), and you're off to, well, the races. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a turn-of-the-century race car turned junkheap chassis. Beloved as a plaything of Jeremy and Jemima Potts (Adrian Hall and Heather Ripley), the car gets a reprieve from being melted down when the children's inventor father Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke) rescues it from the wrecking yard. A great deal of tinkering later, the car emerges from Caractacus' workspace as a unique "hybrid" vehicle: a car with a cabin made out of an old boat. In real life, that's as far as it goes: a goofy-looking car with a talkative engine (its noises and the odd backfires suggest the name "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"). But during a beach picnic, Caractacus spins a story in which the car can both float on water and take to the skies.
I would say that's when things get really strange, but by this point we've already seen Caractacus' dotty dad (Lionel Jeffries) disappearing into a Porta-Potty-sized hut to seek exotic adventure, plenty of wacky inventions—including a candy that double as flute and dog whistle (the invention and its accompanying musical number are called "Toot Sweets," natch)—and Caractacus performing a high-degree-of-difficulty morris dance while on the run from an irate customer (to the aggressively annoying tune "Me Ol' Bamboo"). At any rate, the story within the story sends the Potts family and Caractacus' poorly developed love interest Truly Scrumptious (vocal dynamo Sally Ann Howes) to the fictional Teutonic nation of Vulgaria, where blustery despot Baron Bomburst (Gert "Goldfinger" Frobe) rules supreme and children, who have been deemed illegal, dwell in sewers. As if that weren't bad enough, a scary dude known as the "Child Catcher" (Robert Helpmann) gives Margaret Hamilton a run for her money as the star of children's nightmares.
The influence of TV's Batman is apparent in the colorful style, loony tone, George Barris-esque land/sea/air vehicle and goofy cliffhanger at the roadshow intermission mark. But the saving grace of the movie isn't so much Van Dyke or Howes, as valuable as they are; rather, it's the Sherman Brothers, who devise earworm songs with catchy melodies and catchier wordplay. I defy you not to smile during the title tune ("Near Chitty, far Chitty, in our motor car/Oh what a happy time we'll spend./Bang Bang Chitty Chitty Bang Bang/Our fine four-fendered friend") or be charmed by the surprise contrapuntal number performed by Van Dyke and Howes when they're disguised as giant toy dolls. Jeffries kills with his music-hall style solo "Posh!", and though the lyrics will send any post-pubescent's eyes rolling, "Hushabye Mountain" is an awfully lovely and poetically evocative children's lullaby (as for "Lovely Lonely Man," Howes' lovely voice can't keep the number from stopping the picture dead for five minutes). It'll be interesting to see if children's musicals can forge another return, as they did in the wave of Ashman-Menken titles at Disney; the new wave is overdue to roll in.
Fox (on behalf of MGM) has just given Chitty Chitty Bang Bang its hi-def debut in a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack release timed to be concurrent with that of The Sound of Music. Like that better-known musical classic, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang benefits enormously from its 70mm origins. The restored Super-Panavision 70 source looks incredible, with bold color and fantastic detail. Film grain is natural, the contrast well-defined and the various textures eye-catching. fans cannot ask for more in the audio department, either: the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix is a state-of-the-art delight, giving a fullness and immersion that recreate the original theatrical experiment and arguably better it with the cleanest possible presentation.
The set includes a rather impressive supplemental package. Like The Sound of Music, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang includes a Sing-Along subtitle option and the so-called Music Machine, a glorified scene acces that jumps directly to songs. Also here are two games: Chitty Chitty's Bang Bang Driving Game and Toot Sweet Toots Musical Maestro. okay, so far, so not so impressive.
The bonuses pick up considerably with "Remembering Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with Dick Van Dyke" (25:58, SD), an entertaining half hour with the star sharing all of his memories about making the film.
In "A Fantasmagorical Motorcar" (9:44, SD), the owner of two of the star vehicles submits to an interview about his fine four-fendered friends.
Best of set goes to the audio extra "Sherman Brothers' Demos" (30:20), with raw recordings of the songs performed by the composers themselves.
A section of Vintage Featurettes includes "The Ditchling Tinkerer" (10:07, SD), "Dick Van Dyke Press Interview" (8:48, SD) and "The Potts Children's Featurette" (3:06, SD).
Rounding out the disc are a Photo Gallery (HD) and a Vintage Advertising Gallery with the "U.S. Theatrical Trailer (3:20, HD), "French Theatrical Trailer" (3:37, SD) and five "TV Spots" (1:01, SD).
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