Bedknobs And Broomsticks Let Angela Lansbury Give One Of The Most Enjoyable Performances Of All Time

The 1971 Robert Stevenson film "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" often gets unfairly maligned as a lesser "Mary Poppins," but that's a huge disservice to the performance of the late, great Angela Lansbury. The late Academy Award-nominated actor had not yet become a household name with the 1980s television series "Murder, She Wrote," but film and Broadway fans were sure to recognize her playing a wacky witch who goes on a magical animated journey with a family of children and a con artist/purported school of witchcraft professor named Mr. Brown. She brings a kind of madcap energy to the role that's hard to describe or replicate, and is clearly having a ball imagining herself with supernatural powers and fighting Nazis. 

There are some moments in "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" that have aged strangely, namely in a segment where the bed-riding crew visits the magical land of Naboombu, where animals rule, but for the most part, it's a joyous celebration of imagination as a way to escape tyranny and sadness. Seriously! Lansbury's witchy woman didn't just teach children how to tidy up and take their medicine with a spoonful of sugar, she taught them how to survive whatever the world could possibly throw at them. 

Instead of asking why, ask why not?

"Bedknobs and Broomsticks" takes place in 1940, during the Battle of Britain. Three children are evacuated from London to the nearby countryside, where they are put into the care of Lansbury's Miss Price, an eccentric recluse who would rather mind her own business on her oddball estate. She doesn't know what to do with children and the kids don't really like her all that much, but once she reveals that she's learning how to be a witch via a correspondence school, they become fascinated. She's learned magic in order to fight the Nazis, but there's just one problem: the school has closed and she cannot learn the final spell. The kids join her on a magical flying bed that can travel through time and dimensions in order to find the fabled final spell and hopefully fight back to save their home. 

Julie Andrews' Mary Poppins and Miss Price pretty much only share the "magical woman taking care of children" title, because otherwise, they're nothing alike. Poppins is sweet and quick-witted, while Miss Price is sarcastic and quick to admit her own lack of understanding of things. Miss Price is a kickass single middle-aged woman from a time when that would have her dubbed an "Old Maid," but you get the feeling that she is single by choice, outside of the occasional flirtation with the "Professor." A number of ridiculously strange things happen in "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," and Price rolls with the punches. Lansbury approaches the character with a lackadaisical, adventurous attitude that makes her immediately lovable. 

Lansbury's brand of magic

There are images from "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" that have been burned deep into the recesses of my brain since I was a child, and among them is Miss Price finally receiving her new broom and trying to figure out how to fly on it. The idea of witches as regular people who learned the craft and could become excited about their successes was the greatest idea I could think of. Anyone could be a witch, and Miss Price was the ideal: forging friendships with foster children, exploring strange new worlds on a freaking flying bed, and even defeating Nazis. 

The one thing that "Mary Poppins" has on "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" is the songs, because unfortunately most of the songs in the latter are totally forgettable. The one that isn't, however, is a bolt of pure joy created through Lansbury's performance. She's trying to learn how to bring objects to life so she can have the fake soldiers at the local museum fight the Nazis, but she needs a bit of help from the kids and a song. As she sings "Substitutiary Locomotion," a pair of shoes come to life and begin dancing. It's so much fun and her singing is goosebump-giving despite being a silly little song about bringing objects to life. 

At the end of "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," Miss Price hints to the children that there are more adventures in store for them and the magical flying bed, and it's really a shame we never got sequels or a television spin-off, because I could watch a hundred hours of Angela Lansbury, amateur witch. If you haven't seen this odd little gem or haven't seen it in a while, go check it out on Disney+.