Saturday, November 25, 2017

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
AMC viewing

As a kid, I had this peculiar habit whenever a musical, whether live-action or animated, came on TV: if I really loved the music, I'd write down the song titles, or at least, what I thought the titles were. This was important to me in some way I can't explain; it was as if by doing this, the songs became, I dunno, more mine in some fashion, like they'd be easier to remember.

I don't recall what I did with those lists. Maybe I stuck them in a notebook and left it in my desk. It's not like I went back and referred to them whenever the need arose. Why do kids do anything?

A number of those songs I committed to paper were written by Richard & Robert Sherman. The songwriting brothers - triple-Grammy winners and double-Oscar winners, along with a legion of other accolades - are the most prolific songwriting team in movie musical history. You know their songs because everyone knows their songs: "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "Bare Necessities," "It's a Small World (After All)," to name a few - many of them for Disney, for over four decades.

The scions of a songwriter, the Sherman Brothers first attracted the attention of Unca Walt when they wrote pop music for Mousketeer Annette Funicello in the late 50s/early 60s. In 1964 they struck gold with the earworm "It's a Small World (After All)," for the World's Fair. A year later, they made movie history with their soundtrack for Mary Poppins.

They went on to write songs (and a few screenplays) for film, TV and the stage, not to mention other theme park ditties and pop tunes, such as "You're Sixteen." Here's an excellent interview with them from 1996.

In the wake of their Mary Poppins success, British producer Albert Broccoli, caretaker of the James Bond film franchise, enticed the Sherman Brothers to provide the songs for an adaptation of another Ian Fleming story, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, co-written for the screen by director Ken Hughes and celebrated children's book author Roald Dahl.

Even now, I have to remind myself it's not a Disney movie, and with good reason. It's clearly an attempt to recreate the Poppins formula: it's a musical, set in Britain in the early 20th century; there are elements of magic and fantasy, with colorful characters; two children, brother and sister, play a part.

Broccoli even wanted to reunite Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke for the leads, but he had to settle for the latter; Andrews wasn't interested and van Dyke only did it for the money. He's not a fan of the movie.

The Sherman Brothers' music here may not be as recognizable as that of Poppins, but I remembered a few from when I was a kid. A wide variety of characters got songs to sing. That was one of the few knocks I had against La La Land; Gosling and Stone did almost all of the singing, and other than the opening number, there were hardly any grand, epic numbers with lots of extras. Chitty had a few, of various sizes. The Shermans knew the value of diversity in the songs.

Van Dyke, in his prime, was no Gene Kelly, but he was good as a song and dance man; I had forgotten how good until I saw him here. If his recent performance at an LA Denny's is any indication, he hasn't lost much vocally. Sally Ann Howes was obviously brought in as an Andrews sound-alike, but she was a good sound-alike.

Watching this for the first time in I-don't-know-how-long, I was gratified at the number of names I now recognized besides van Dyke: Dahl, Broccoli, Benny Hill - even Barbara Windsor of the Carry On films, who appears in one scene. Still, it wasn't too hard to look at it like I was eight years old again. I was glad of that.


  1. I love it when that old feeling can be recaptured when watching a favourite old movie.

    I used to write the lyrics to songs. I don't know why. I could just pick up the sheet music at a shop in the neighbourhood. You may have hit on something about it making them more our own. Pen to paper makes things personal.

  2. Maybe. For years afterward I thought the whole writing down songs thing was the height of nerdiness; in fact, I wasn't even going to mention it here at first, but I decided I had to talk about this movie in relation to my childhood, and that was part of my story.

  3. Kids! I look back at the kid me and shake my head.

  4. I love this film - it was a childhood favorite and all the songs and scenes bring back nostalgic memories. It's true, it's very much like a Disney film but you can also see Broccoli's stamp on it ( especially with Ken Adams' sets ). I did not know that Julie Andrews was intended for the part of Truly...I wonder how that would have turned out! ( The film would probably be even more famous today if she were in it )

    1. Probably, although I imagine the stage musical (which I forgot to mention) did much for the film's popularity.

  5. You're right about Dick van Dyke. He is a good song-and-dance man, and has good comedic timing, too. Can't believe I've never seen this film!

  6. It's a lot of fun, even if it is in the shadow of POPPINS, which is in a class by itself.


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