Australian Council on Children and the Media

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

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Not suitable under 6; parental guidance to 10 (scary scenes, adult themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Bedknobs and Broomsticks
  • a review of Bedknobs and Broomsticks completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 1 June 2020.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 6 Not suitable due to some mild scary scenes and lack of interest due to length.
Children aged 6–10 Parental guidance recommended due to scary scenes and adult themes (World War II, Nazi invasion).
Children over the age of 10 Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Classification: G
Consumer advice lines: The content is very mild in impact
Length 117 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Bedknobs and Broomstick is a classic Disney film, released in 1971. It is based on two novels by Mary Norton The Magic Bedknob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons (1943) and Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947). The story is set in England during the Second World War and the main character is Ms Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury), an apprentice witch who is busy finishing her correspondence course in witchcraft. Much to her annoyance, Eglantine reluctantly agrees to temporarily take in three children, Charlie (Ian Weighill), Carrie (Cindy O'Callaghan), and Paul (Roy Snart), who have been evacuated from London. The children are equally unimpressed with the arrangement and decide that they’d better run away back to London. However, before they make their escape they see Eglantine riding (clumsily) on a broom stick and decide that maybe it would be more interesting to stick around! Eglantine bribes the children to keep her secret by offering up a magic transportation spell. She places an enchantment onto the brass knob of an old Victorian bed and all the children must do is hop on and they can fly anywhere, riding on the big bed. Eglantine is eagerly awaiting the final spell- "Substitutiary Locomotion" from her course to arrive, in the hopes she will be able to use it to help in the British war effort. Instead she receives a letter notifying her that the college of witchcraft has closed and there will be no more spells. Together with the children, she flies on the bed to London to discover what has happened and to track down the final spell that she needs. Much to her horror and disgust, the professor of her course, Emelius Browne (David Tomlinson), turns out to be merely a showman and a conman who has been sending her spells from an old book that he found on Portobello Road Market. The very spell she is looking for is missing. Together with Mr. Brown and the three children, the group embark on a wild adventure, flying on the bed to faraway islands and underwater worlds trying to piece together everything required for the final spell. Finally, they arrive back in the English countryside which is on the brink of a Nazi invasion. Quickly they must figure out the spell in time to protect themselves.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Witchcraft, Spells and Magic; Music and Dancing; War; Nazi invasion; War evacuees.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • Slapstick cartoon violence in the soccer match, where players trip and fall for comic effect.
  • A man pulls a knife on the group and threatens them.
  • There is a major battle scene at the end of the film with Nazi soldiers firing guns and the ghost-like army fighting with bows and arrows and lances.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • The three children have been evacuated from London during the War and are without their parents.
  • Sometimes when the bed is flying it takes some sharp, fast twists and falls that feel a bit dangerous. In one scene the bed plunges deep down into the ocean and some of the travellers fall off.
  • On the island there is an animated bear with a very growly, aggressive ‘voice’. There is also a lion who roars fiercely.
  • The group is threatened and held at knifepoint and made to walk down some dark stairs into a basement, where a sinister character is waiting for them.
  • When Eglantine uses the spell to bring clothes/armour to life, they look quite eerie and ghost-like, moving on their own.
  • When the armour is brought to life there is spooky music playing and the drums start beating slowly on their own.
  • Nazi soldiers break into the house where they are staying. The scene is very tense and scary.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Some children in this age bracket may still find some of the scenes described above a little scary.
  • Children in this age bracket may need a more detailed explanation of the historical context of this film, why the children were being evacuated and why Nazi soldiers are threatening to invade.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • Children in this age bracket may need a more detailed explanation of the historical context of this film, why the children were being evacuated and why Nazi soldiers are threatening to invade.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

  • Nothing further of concern.

Product placement

  • None noted.

Sexual references

There are some mild romantic references in this movie, including:

  • Mild flirtation between Eglantine and Emelius leads to a relationship.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some very mild nudity and sexual innuendo in this movie, including:

  • Emelius experiences a hallucination where he sees a scantily clad showgirl walking towards him on the railway line.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • An animated fish smokes a cigar.
  • Emelius Brown mentions that he is going to stop in the pub for a pint to steady his nerves.

Coarse language

There is some mild coarse language in this movie, as well as some phrases that are racist and sexist including:

  • Child says, “Not bloody likely!”
  • Emelius talks about doing a ‘gypsy switch’ in reference to stealing something.
  • Emelius makes the following statements about women: “Women always lose things” and “When will Women learn to file things properly!”

In a nutshell

Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a classic Disney film that is very similar in style to Mary Poppins. An entertaining mix of music, dance sequences and animation that is mild enough for most children to enjoy, however it is very long and will not hold the attention of younger viewers easily. In addition, the themes of War and invading Nazi soldiers may need a bit of historical context added for children to understand.

The main messages from this movie are that it is worth pursuing your dreams no matter where it takes you and that if you cooperate, you can defeat a common enemy.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Cooperation, independence and honesty.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • There are some elements of this film which are quite dated, and some sequences and dialogue are either explicitly racist or sexist (see comments above) or come very close to it. For example, there is a long dance sequence in the Portobello Road market scene showing different cultural groups dancing (for example Sikh soldiers in turbans with long swords, Caribbean Women dancing to the beat of exotic drum rhythms etc). which is colourful and fun but does exotify and sensualise minority groups in a way that would not be acceptable in film making today.
  • Eglantine Price, the central character, is a great positive role model. She is a strong-minded, independent unmarried woman who is intent on building her skills as a powerful witch. However, the story arc ‘reforms’ her to fit a more traditional and acceptable female mould – she decides to give up magic because she thinks she was never too good at it anyhow (even though she manages to lead an army into battle against a Nazi invasion!) and form a family with Emelius Brown.
  • A good opportunity to discuss attitudes towards nationalism, patriotism and the realities of war in contrast to how it might be portrayed in a Disney film.

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