The season's DVD box sets hit the spot
In the Family Way
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Blu-ray)20th Century Fox, $34.99
A proto-steampunk Herbie Goes Bananas, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a grand paean to the English eccentric. Oddball inventor and single father Caractacus Potts (played by everyone's favorite fake Englishman, Dick Van Dyke) rescues a wrecked 1920s sports car. Of course, being an eccentric sort of inventor, Potts' repairs involve creating a flying, floating, possibly sentient automobile. Cue high adventure involving German spies, dog whistle candy sweets, and a lot of dressing up as life-size toys.
There's a post-World War II, end-of-the-empire feel to the whole affair, given a breezy joviality through the Sherman brothers' elaborate Disneyesque song-and-dance numbers. This new release highlights every single hummable note from the Shermans, veterans of the House of Mouse's run of 1960s musical comedies who were fresh off The Jungle Book; there's even a plot-free sing-along edit of the film.
For all the cloying-as-clotted cream sweetness, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is still one of the most delightfully twisted children's movies to escape into cinemas. Consider the sources: James Bond creator and noted misanthrope Ian Fleming wrote the source novel, professional warper of young minds Roald Dahl adapted the script, and Ken Hughes – one of Britain's greatest noir directors – was behind the camera. Seriously, if you ever want to burn stranger danger deep into your children's infant psyches, bolt them to their seats for Robert Helpmann's traumatizing turn as the Child Catcher (sort of like Freddie Krueger without the whimsy).
For owners of the 2003 special edition DVD release, the extras aren't the real selling point here, since you'll have most of them already. As for the Blu-ray upgrade, the restoration job is suitably lush, from the verdant, rolling English hillsides to Benny Hill's candy-colored toy shop (yes, that Benny Hill) in the mythical German principality of Vulgaria. The handful of included contemporary promotional featurettes, including a charmingly cheesy homage to prop-maker and Rube Goldberg-esque inventor Roland Emmett, are a charming throwback to a time when studios didn't mind giving children nightmares.
Also Recommended in Family Films: The Sound of Music: 45th Anniversary Edition (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, $34.99, Blu-ray); Waking Sleeping Beauty (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, $29.99)