Saturday, 20 December 2014

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

You don't often get kids' films that run 140 minutes.  And to be honest, you could probably squeeze this film down under two hours if you really tried.  The intermission gag for instance - while hysterically funny in my adult eyes - takes up two or three minutes by itself and I'm betting that as a kid I found it far less amusing.  Still, the run time never felt like it was dragging to me, so probably the effort of squeezing it would not be worth it.

Eccentric inventor Caracatus Potts lives in a windmill with his equally-if-not-more eccentric father and his two children.  Mrs Potts is presumably dead - the film never comes out and says that, but in 1968 one did not have divorcees as the heroes of one's films - and Caracatus rather lets the two cherubs run wild, a fact that comes to the attention of well-to-do local lady Truly Scrumptious when she nearly runs them over.

Yes, her name is Truly Scrumptious.  It's that kind of story.

Truly and Caracatus have the kind of snark-filled first meeting that is movie code for "love, true love".  Sure enough, they are soon heading off for a picnic - the two children in tow - in a motor car that Caracatus buys and repairs.

It might surprise you to know that I just summarised the entire first hour of the film.  It might seem like not much has happened, but trust me it actually has - this is a very busy film, with a ton of plot.  Caracatus Potts is not the kind of man to just have the money for a car - even a wreck he had to rebuild.  I just thought we should get to the part where the title character - yes, the car - makes an appearance.

At the beach for the picnic, the kids have just asked their father for a story when a sailing ship comes into view.  Caractus immediately recognises the vessel, for it is none other than the personal yacht of Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria.  Bomburst is a petulant, acquisitive fellow who immediately wants Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for himself.  Can Caracatus and Truly protect the car from the Baron and the children from the merciless clutches of the Childcatcher?  Will they find lots of excuses to sing and dance as they do so?  Will Benny Hill of all people turn up in a bit part?  You'll have to watch it to find out.

I think that the most successful kids' films all contain two important ingredients: the first is whimsy.  A sense of wonderment and a willingness to go in odd little diversions.  The second is menace: there needs to be a credible threat to make the whimsy (and presumed triumphant ending) really 'click'.  Consider films like Wall-E or The Lion King and you'll see scenes both whimsical and dark.  Chitty Chitty Bang Bang delivers whimsy in spades, as you'll see from about five minutes in, and as for menace, well ... there's nightmare fuel aplenty once the story gets to Vulgaria itself.

This film is probably a bit too out there for many people, but I thoroughly enjoy it.

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