Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) ***

G, 144 min.
Director: Ken Hughes
Writers: Roald Dahl, Ken Hughes, The Sherman Brothers (songs), Ian Fleming (novel)
Starring: Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes, Lionel Jeffries, Gert Frobe, Anna Quayle, Benny Hill, James Robertson Justice, Robert Helpmann, Heather Ripley, Adrian Hall

I grow more and more proud of my children every day. I have many reasons to be proud of my children, as many parents do. However, one thing that makes me proud of them is probably something that many parents don’t value in their children. They are extremely open minded about movies. I can show them a movie from any era, and they’ll watch it. This is not the case with many children. It’s not the case with many adults.

Now, this wasn’t always the case with my children. This is something you have to teach your children. They have to learn to appreciate films from different eras, just as anyone does. But when you teach them to appreciate the entire history of film so early, it sticks and fosters an appreciation and an open mindedness about many, many things in life.

Here’s an example. For last week’s Family Movie Night—the Family Movie Night is one of the keys to getting your children to appreciate films from any era—I gave the boys an option as to which movie we watched. I usually am pretty dictatorial about which movies they’re exposed to, but every once and a while I like to have them chose for themselves. I gave them three choices—the late 60s Dick Van Dyke musical “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, a recent Sutdio Ghibli anime “From Up On Poppy Hill”, and one they saw in theaters but are likely to want to watch again “Star Trek Into Darkness”. I fully expected them to go for the known commodity, “Star Trek”. However, one chose “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” without a thought, and the other was passionately excited about seeing the anime, which I cautioned him was a serious one severely lacking in explosions. He didn’t care, but eventually decided to go with the musical.

Now, I’d never seen “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and had no idea what to expect really. I had no idea whether they’d like it or not. Even as we watched it I wondered if it would lose their interests. It’s a little slower and longer than the family fare we’re used to seeing today. The movie has an intermission.

There were parts where I though it was losing them, but then one of them would ask a question or two about what they were seeing. My middle child, who couldn’t figure out how everybody knew the steps and lyrics to the song and dance numbers that were supposedly spontaneous, made my favorite observation. “How can they do that? They haven’t even met each other before. That doesn’t make any sense,” he shook his head. “But did you like it?” I asked. “Oh, Yes!”

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” is a silly movie, but it’s fun. My kids had fun watching it, and that’s fills me with happiness.


Jimh. said...

I was hoping for more of a review. I wanted to hear what I missed. I remember watching it as a kid...vaguely...and when we watched it recently, I was appalled at how it failed to meet my memory. It WAS slow. I just wonder if it was because we never had a choice, three and-a-half channels or what was in the VCR. I left it playing and worked around the house. I had the vaguest notion of it making sense. Anything you care to add, Dearest Film Critic, in the spirit of helping us who want to understand it, understand?

Andrew Wells said...

Alright, Jim. When I review a movie under my Penny Thoughts, it isn't strictly a review like I do with my full length theatrical reviews, but I can give you a little more.

Truthfully, one reason I went with anecdote in place of a review is that I don't really have much to say about the movie, and that says quite a bit right there. I'd just barely give it three stars, and were I to truly examine it, that rating might drop. It is a bit of a mess of a film, but I did find quite a bit of charm in it.

Thankfully, Van Dyke doesn't slaughter the British accent like he does in Mary Poppins, and just goes with his natural accent. I found his co-star Sally Ann Howes, with whom I'm completely unfamiliar other than this role, quite spectacular. She's charming and has a wonderful singing voice, although her solo number "Lovely Lonely Man" should've been cut, because it brings the movie to a dead stop.

I loved the "Me Ol' Bamboo" dance number, which happens to be the part that Jude had his pondering over just how it was possible for Van Dyke to know the words and the dance steps. I also loved the "Toot Sweets" big production number in the candy factory. I think it's interesting that even down to the set design this scene resembles something out of Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", hardly a coincidence as he wrote the screenplay.

Often times when we go back later in life to look at films we adored as children it is a big let down. I'm sure to a great degree your memory of it was better than it's reality. As children we haven't really developed our judgmental nature, and so everything we remember from childhood, even vaguely, is good, except for the things that frighten us. I don't think it really has much to do with the types of material that were available to us so much as we just don't judge things so harshly as children.

Me, I was looking at the movie more from the eyes of my own children this time. Hence the slowness bothered me, but the kind of clunky structure of it didn't. It's a total child's fantasy about made up things happening, so a gave it a lot of leeway. I'm sure if I had watched it by myself, without the children, I would've looked at it with a harsher eye.