Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Director: Ken Hughes
Screenplay: Roald Dahl & Ken Hughes (based on the book by Ian Fleming)
Stars: Dick Van Dyke(Caractacus Potts), Sally Ann Howes (Truly Scrumptious), Lionel Jeffries (Grandpa Potts), Gert Fröbe (Baron Bomburst), Anna Quayle (Baroness Bomburst), Benny Hill (Toymaker), James Robertson Justice (Lord Scrumptious), Robert Helpmann (Child Catcher), Heather Ripley (Jemima Potts), Adrian Hall (Jeremy Potts), Barbara Windsor (Blonde at Fair), Davy Kaye (Admiral), Alexander Doré (Herman the 1st Spy), Bernard Spear (Sherman the 2nd Spy), Stanley Unwin (Chancellor), Peter Arne (Captain of Guard), Desmond Llewelyn (George Coggins)
MPAA Rating: G
Year of Release: 1968
Country: U.S. / U.K.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Blu-Ray
Chitty Chitty BangThough a beloved classic in its own right that has more than stood the test of time, charming viewers for decades even after its initial release in the tumultuous late 1960s, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is nevertheless an exceedingly odd children’s film. At two and a half hours in length, not including the intermission, it certainly demands quite a bit from its audience as it moves freely between reality and fantasy, stitching it all together with breezy musical numbers and expensive special effects. Loosely based on the 1964 book by Ian Fleming, otherwise known as the creator of James Bond, and produced by Albert R. Broccoli, who staked much of his career on bringing Fleming’s secret agent to life on screen, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang also bears the strong imprimatur of Roald Dahl, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Ken Hughes and added a number of dark twists worthy of the mind behind Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda.

Clearly forged in the live-action fantasy-musical mold that Walt Disney had so successfully worked earlier in the decade with Mary Poppins (1964), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang begins with its feet firmly planted in reality and then slowly moves out into more and more fantastical shenanigans until we finally arrive in the realm of pure fantasy. The story is set in the early years of the 1900s, when automobiles were still a new invention and a relatively rare sight on the roads. The main character is Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke, also borrowed from Mary Poppins), an affable crackpot inventor who lives in the picturesque English countryside with his two irascible, home-schooled kids, Jemima (Heather Ripley) and Jeremy (Adrian Hall), and their crotchedy Grandpa (Lionel Jeffries), an unruly, mutton-chopped military veteran who can’t quite understand where his son got his eccentricities.

One day the kids convince Caractacus to buy an old clunker from the local junkyard. We know there is something special about the car because we saw it winning numerous Grand Prix all around Europe during the opening credits. Caractacus refurbishes it to new heights, although it makes a funny sound when it runs and tends to backfire in spurts of two, thus generating the name “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” The kids also bring home Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes), the heiress of a local confectionary who becomes an obvious love interest for their widowed dad, whose time is taken up entirely with his Rube Goldberg-like contraptions (including an automatic breakfast maker and a prototype vacuum cleaner that has a little bit too much power).

The film takes an abrupt shift about halfway through when Caractacus begins telling a story to Truly and the kids after an afternoon picnic on the beach, a fanciful adventure yarn in which they all have starring roles. The crux of the story is that the terrible Baron Bomburst (Gert Fröbe) wants to steal Chitty, which in Caractacus’ story is a magical car capable of flight and turning into a boat, among other things. Bomburst’s kingdom of Vulgaria has outlawed children and employs a wicked Child Catcher (Robert Helpmann)--an obvious addition to the narrative by Dahl--to lure any little ones into cages with promises of ice cream and lollipops.

The fact that the story is all over the place is effectively excused by Caractacus making it up on the spot; it has the ebb and flow of something manufactured in the moment. Plus, the story’s wild nature allows for the inclusion of all kinds of elaborate musical numbers, including one in which Caractacus and Truly pretend to be life-size wind-up toys created by Vulgaria’s toymaker (Benny Hill). There are more than a dozen Broadway-style songs scattered throughout the film, all of which were written by Richard and Robert Sherman, who also penned the tunes for Mary Poppins. The best songs have a lively energy and sense of fun, and the film’s comical and musical highpoint is “Chu-Chi Face,” a wickedly funny duet between the Baron and his wife (Anna Quayle) in which they sing deliriously silly pet names and romantic platitudes to each other while he tries and fails repeatedly to kill her.

If that sounds a bit dark for a movie aimed at kids, it is. But, then again, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is replete with imagery and ideas that kids will likely find frightening, including the aforementioned Child Catcher, who is depicted as a big-nosed, stringy-haired sadist who clearly relishes tracking down and trapping children, and a sequence in which we discover that all the children in Vulgaria have been hiding in a huge underground cave where they see no light and have no fun. The darkness is certainly outweighed by the lighter moments, and it’s ultimately all in good fun, although it’s hard to shake entirely the sense that something is slightly askew, which is probably the point. Unlike so much children’s entertainment today that bends over backwards to play it safe, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang takes its risks, for better and for worse.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Blu-Ray + DVD

Aspect Ratio2.20:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround
  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo
  • French DTS 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Subtitles English, Spanish, French
  • Sing-Along
  • Chitty Chitty’s, Bang Bang Driving Game
  • Toot Sweet Toots Musical Maestro game
  • “Remembering Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” interview with Dick Van Dyke
  • “A Fantasmagorical Motorcar” featurette
  • Sherman Brothers’ Demo
  • Three vintage featurettes
  • Photo gallery
  • Theatrical trailer
  • French theatrical trailer
  • Five TV spots
  • Distributor20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
    Release DateNovember 2, 2010

    In terms of presentation on this 50 GB dual-layer Blu-Ray disc, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has never looked better, as least since its initial 70mm roadshow distribution in late 1968. The new high-definition 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer, which is presented in its original 2.20:1 aspect ratio and was likely scanned from a Super Panavision 70mm source, has done wonders in terms of improving the image’s brightness, clarity, and detail. The smallest minutiae of Potts’ various inventions are available for visual scrutiny, and Chitty himself is appropriately bright and shiny. The soundtrack, one of the film’s strongest elements, has also been given an upgrade to lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround. The songs sound even bolder and more spacious, and the additional surround channels make the sound effects, particularly the roaring engines during the opening sequence, even more immersive.
    The supplements are a bit of letdown since there is very little that adds to what was available on the previously released Special Edition DVD from 2003. There is a new photo gallery with about 35 production stills and behind-the-scenes photos, as well as two new games: Chitty Chitty’s, Bang Bang Driving Game, which is a fairly simplistic driving game in which the only options are right and left, and Toot Sweet Toots Musical Maestro. The rest of the supplements will be familiar from the 2003 disc. There is the sing-along option; a 25-minute “Remembering Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” interview with Dick Van Dyke; the 10-minute featurette “A Fantasmagorical Motorcar” in which we meet Pierre Picton, the man who took care of Chitty on the set during production and has owned the car since 1973; and half an hour of audio recordings of the Sherman Brothers singing and playing the film’s tunes. Also included are three circa-1968 marketing featurettes--“The Ditchling Tinkerer,” which is about the man who created the film’s various inventions, an original Dick Van Dyke interview, and “The Potts Children”--and a vintage advertising section that includes the original theatrical trailer, a French theatrical trailer, and five TV spots.

    Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick

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    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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