(On TV, January 2018) I didn’t end up enjoying Chitty Chitty Bang Bang all that much, which is strange given that I certainly expected to like it. Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes, fancy retro-technology … what’s not to like? The film is a minor reference in Science Fiction fannish circles, so I finally got some of the jokes. Even the opening credit sequence has a few promising surprises, from a Roald Dahl script of an Ian Fleming story. What a pedigree! For a while, it looks as if the film is off to a good start with an eccentric inventor, a big musical sequence set in a candy factory and enough quirky ideas to keep things interesting. I even had an audible “ah ha” as I recognized the source of a verbal tic (“toot sweet”) of an acquaintance of mine. Somehow, though, along the way Chitty Chitty Bang Bang sort of lost me. The radically different second act takes us to an unpleasant place, and while I was momentarily fascinated by the film all over again during the “music box doll” sequence, the film seemed less interesting as it went on. It wasn’t what I was expecting.
(In French, Video on-Demand, September 2015) I had seen bits and pieces of Mary Poppins over the years, but never the entire thing from beginning to end. So it is that “I can see why this is a classic” jostles with “wow, this is a long movie” as my first conclusions. Clocking in at nearly 140 minutes, Mary Poppins unevenly goes from one set-piece to another, flirting with plotlessness before finally delivering something near the very end. It’s obviously a musical, meaning that is comes with a Bollywoodian intent to cover all emotional bases during its lengthy running time, no matter the loss in economical storytelling along the way. There’s also an argument to be made that in 1964, audiences were far more accepting of a meandering movie experience and that today’s 90-minutes feature competes with far many more entertainment options. So be it –let’s simply say that the film often drags. Still, it would be churlish to ignore the reasons why Mary Poppins remains a cultural touchstone: the charm of it all, the great performances by Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke (whose physical energy in the film remains astonishing), plentiful special effects, the catchy tunes, the family-first message, the set-pieces that do work well. (My own favourites include the partially-animated Jolly Holiday, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (of course) and the rooftop Chim-Chim-Cheree) Must of the film feels dated, but in doing so has acquired a further patina of whimsy that can’t be replicated by modern films. (Well, except for the use of suffragette activism as a motivation for a mother ignoring her kids –that’s even more annoying than it must have been at the time.) While I itch for some editing power in making this film more focused from beginning to end, the end result is still a classic for the ages. Note: The French version may be competently translated, but it’s nowhere near the catchiness of the original English soundtrack.