Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) is a classic Disney movie, based on two novels by Mary Norton – The Magic Bedknob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons (1943) and Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947).
The story is set in England during World War II and the main character is Miss Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury), an apprentice witch who’s busy finishing her correspondence course in witchcraft. Eglantine reluctantly agrees to temporarily take in three children – Charlie (Ian Weighill), Carrie (Cindy O’Callaghan), and Paul (Roy Snart) – who have been evacuated from London. The children are as unhappy about the arrangement as Eglantine, and they decide to run away back to London. But before they escape, they see Eglantine riding clumsily on a broomstick and decide that it might be more interesting to stay.
Eglantine bribes the children to keep her secret by offering them a magic transportation spell. She places an enchantment on the brass knob of an old Victorian bed, which allows the children to fly anywhere on the bed. At the same time, Eglantine is eagerly awaiting the arrival of her course’s final spell, ‘Substitutiary Locomotion’. She hopes to use the spell to help in the British war effort. Instead she receives a letter saying that the college of witchcraft has closed and there will be no more spells.
Eglantine and the children fly to London on the bed to discover what has happened and to track down the final spell. Much to Eglantine’s horror and disgust, the college’s professor, Emelius Browne (David Tomlinson), turns out to be a conman who has been sending Eglantine spells from an old book that he found at the Portobello Road Market. The very spell she is looking for is missing.
Eglantine, Emelius and the children embark on a wild adventure, flying on the bed to faraway islands and underwater worlds to find what they need for the final spell. Finally, they arrive back in England, which is on the brink of a Nazi invasion. Quickly they must figure out the spell in time to protect themselves and save England.
Witchcraft, spells and magic; music and dancing; war; Nazi invasion; war evacuees
Bedknobs and Broomsticks has some violence. For example:
- There’s some slapstick cartoon violence in a soccer match, when players trip and fall for comic effect.
- A man threatens a group of people with a knife.
- In a major battle scene at the end of the movie, Nazi soldiers fire guns and a ghost-like army fights with bows, arrows and lances.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks has some mild romantic references. This includes some mild flirtation between Eglantine and Emelius, which leads to a relationship.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
Bedknobs and Broomsticks shows some use of substances. For example:
- An animated fish smokes a cigar.
- Emelius mentions that he’s going to stop in a pub for a pint to steady his nerves.
Nudity and sexual activity
Bedknobs and Broomsticks has some very mild nudity and sexual innuendo. For example, Emelius has a hallucination in which he sees a scantily clad showgirl walking towards him on a railway line.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks has some mild coarse language in this movie, as well as some racist and sexist remarks. For example:
- A child says, ‘Not bloody likely!’
- Emelius describes stealing something as doing a ‘gypsy switch’.
- Emelius says, ‘Women always lose things’ and ‘When will women learn to file things properly!’
Ideas to discuss with your children
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a classic Disney movie, very similar in style to Mary Poppins. It has an entertaining mix of music, dance sequences and animation that most children will enjoy, but it’s also very long and might not hold the attention of younger viewers. In addition, you might need to explain the themes of war and Nazi invasion.
These are the main messages from this movie:
- It’s worth pursuing your dreams no matter where they take you.
- If you cooperate, you can defeat a common enemy.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include cooperation, independence and honesty.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues like the following:
- Some of the movie’s scenes and dialogue are racist or sexist. For example, there’s a long dance sequence in the Portobello Road market scene that shows different cultural groups dancing – for example, Sikh soldiers in turbans with long swords, Caribbean women dancing to the exotic drum rhythms and so on. Although the scene is colourful, it does objectify minority groups in a way that wouldn’t be acceptable in today’s movies.
- Eglantine Price is a great positive role model. She’s a strong-minded, independent unmarried woman who wants to build her skills as a powerful witch. But the story transforms her into a more traditional and acceptable female role. Eglantine decides to give up magic because she thinks she was never too good at it anyhow (even though she manages to lead an army into battle against a Nazi invasion) and settle down with Emelius Brown.
- You could talk about the realities of nationalism, patriotism and war and the contrast with the way these are presented in the movie.