Long before Angela Lansbury was the victim of magic as human-turned-teapot Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, she was performing magic as Miss Eglantine Price in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Here are 13 magical facts about the beloved Disney classic.
1. THE MOVIE WAS BASED ON TWO BOOKS BY MARY NORTON.
Rather than adapting a single book for the film, Disney took elements from two novels by Mary Norton: The Magic Bed-Knob and Bonfires and Broomsticks.
2. DISNEY WANTED JULIE ANDREWS FOR THE LEAD ROLE.
Because Mary Poppins had been a great success for Disney, they tried to get lightning to strike twice by asking Julie Andrews to star in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Like Mary Poppins, Bedknobs featured magic, music, animated segments, and even the same director (Robert Stevenson) and co-star (David Tomlinson, Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins). Afraid of being typecast, Andrews turned it down. When she changed her mind a few months later, Angela Lansbury had already signed on.
3. THE RIGHTS TO BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS WERE PURCHASED BEFORE MARY POPPINS.
Thanks to the movie Saving Mr. Banks, it’s now fairly well known that Walt Disney had a tough time negotiating movie rights with Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers. But he wasn’t too worried: He told the Sherman Brothers not to worry about not securing the rights to Mary Poppins because he would just use their songs in Bedknobs and Broomsticks instead. When Mary and the Banks kids finally got approval, Disney decided to push the “other” film about magic back several years because the two stories were similar.
4. ONE OF THE FILM'S SONGS WAS WRITTEN FOR MARY POPPINS.
Walt ended up being right about the songs being suitable for either movie: The Sherman Brothers actually repurposed one of their discarded songs from Mary Poppins for Bedknobs and Broomsticks. “The Beautiful Briny” would have been performed while Mary and the children sailed off in an adventure in Admiral Boom’s ship house.
5. WALT DISNEY FELL ASLEEP DURING THE SHERMAN BROTHERS’ SONG PRESENTATION.
When the famous songwriting duo originally pitched some of their tunes to the team early on, Walt was, well, not terribly engaged. According to Richard Sherman, “We were so carried away telling our story and singing loud, 'Eglantine, Eglantine, oh how you shine!,' showing how the phony guy, who finds this real witch who’s capable of doing magic, is so excited when he figured he’d make a fortune with her. This is the fun of the show, and Walt was sort of toddling off! He might have been tired that day.”
6. DESPITE HIS APPARENT DISINTEREST, DISNEY LIKED THE SONGS A LOT.
One of his favorites was “Substitutiary Locomotion.” “He loved that song,” Robert Sherman said. “He said, ‘That’s wonderful but we should do a little of that counter melody.’ We had done a few counterpoints and he loved the idea of that. So we came up with the actual magic words—Treguna, Mekoides, Trecorum, Satis, Dee—and put them with the verses we had already written.”
7. ANGELA LANSBURY REFERS TO IT AS “ACTING BY THE NUMBERS.”
Lansbury felt that shooting Bedknobs and Broomsticks was very scheduled and regimented. Each shot was determined strictly by what had been storyboarded for it, right down to every each expression the actors had on their faces.
8. LIKE EGLANTINE PRICE, LANSBURY WAS A WWII EVACUEE.
In fact, it may have affected her entire career. “The story reminded me of my teens,” Lansbury told D23. “Like Miss Price, I was in England when World War II broke out. My mother gave me a choice of being evacuated from London to a boarding school in the country or studying acting at home. I chose the latter without hesitation.”
9. THE MOVIE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH LONGER.
Disney wanted to present the movie at the New York City Hall Christmas show, but had to meet certain time constraints in order to be considered. As a result, the movie was cut substantially. Many songs got the axe, including one called “Nobody’s Problem,” sung once by the children and once by Eglantine.
“Unfortunately, both versions were totally and completely ripped out of the picture. I’ll never forget how miserable we felt,” Sherman said in 2009. “That was the heartbeat of the picture and they took it out. I still feel very pained about that. Now, they found one version of it, the reprise and did a restored version with a beautiful vocal by Eglantine. But it would have had twice the poignancy if you’d heard those three little war orphans singing 'Nobody’s Problem' early in picture. Then, you would have really cared about those kids. It was a very, very, very important song. Here I am, going off on a rant on that, 40 years later; but we put our lives into this picture, we truly did—we put our sweat, our blood, our dreams in it and they just sliced it out! You know what happened: they decided to obliterate the picture and they just sliced out songs, one after the other. So, for the first release version, we lost so much. It was so denuded of emotion that it was upsetting.”
10. THERE’S A HIDDEN MICKEY IN THE MOVIE.
If you look closely at the audience during the animated soccer match, you’ll find a familiar face: There’s a bear wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt.
11. YOU PROBABLY RECOGNIZE THE VOICE OF BEAR.
The animated bear who pulls Eglantine, Emelius, and the children out of the sea is voiced by Dal McKennon. McKennon was also the voice behind Gumby, Archie, and various small parts in Mary Poppins, Sleeping Beauty, Lady and the Tramp, and 101 Dalmatians. He’s also the guy who tells riders they’re about to enjoy “the wildest ride in the wilderness!” before they board Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disney theme parks.
12. THE ENTIRE MOVIE WAS SHOT IN CALIFORNIA.
Despite the very British setting of the film, nearly the entire movie, including Portobello Road and the castle scenes, was shot at Disney Studios in Burbank, California. The only thing shot off-lot were some coastal scenes of the Nazi soldiers, which were shot at a nearby beach.
13. THE ACTUAL MAGICAL BEDKNOB IS STILL AROUND.
It’s now at the Walt Disney Archives, housed in a display case in their reading room. Other Bedknobs props at the Archives include the Isle of Naboombu book, Professor Emelius Browne’s suitcase, and Eglantine Price’s flying broom.