22 June 2001 | imddaveh
James Bond goes to Romper Room
I'm one of many thirty-somethings that grew up on this movie and later suffered nightmares featuring the Child Catcher. To this day, I still feel an uneasy chill when I hear the words "kiddie-winkies". Bit I still love this film on several levels. I loved it as a child because it's great cinema for children. I love it as a film student because it's a well-crafted, timeless fairytale. And I love it as an adult because it full of suggestive double meanings, much like the Warner Bros cartoons of the 1940s - the type of things that shoot straight over kids' heads and make adults snicker knowingly. With a screenplay penned by Ian Fleming, this should come as no surprise.
Dick Van Dyke is Caractacus Potts, a wacky inventor who inexplicably lives in England with his two inexplicably English children. Caractacus Potts...wacky inventor,,,get it? Hoo hah! Potts and his two children (whose pictures may be seen in the dictionary next to the word "moppet") live with the senior Mr. Potts in a windmill/labratory. Caractacus rescues a junked motorcar from rusting in a field and restores it to new - meet Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, named for the sounds the car makes. Soon thereafter in one of those Pipi Longstocking-esque child-arranged dates, Potts and his two children go on a picnic with local richgirl Truly Scrumptious - possibly the best Bond Girl name since Pussy Galore. As the day winds down, Potts tells the children a story, in which the foursome embark on a great adventure in the resplendent Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which Potts as rigged to fly, float, drive itself, and perform other turn-of-the-century Batmobile-like functions.
Our heroes end up in a far away kingdom ruled over by the Baron and Baroness Bomburst (Gert Frobe and Anna Quayle), a terribly sad place where children have been outlawed, rounded up, and kept in a dungeon. The gang and Chitty invade the kingdom to rescue Potts' father, who has mistakenly been identified as the inventor of the flying car and kidnapped. There, they befriend a toymaker (played by Benny Hill in one of his stock characters from his TV show) who hides the children while they attempt to spring grandpa Potts. Enter the Child Catcher, who lures the children with free lollipops and takes them away to the dungeon. Potts and the toymaker (who now only makes toys for the child-like king) hatch a plan to infiltrate the castle, rescue the elder Potts and the twin moppets, and free all the other children as well.
I have two favorite scenes in this film. One is the musical number in the castle, where Truly and Potts are disguised as huge toys for the Baron's birthday. Truly is a wind-up doll on a music box, and Potts is a marionette who does a dance number that not only convinces you that he really is on strings, but that Dick Van Dyke is one of the most talented performers ever to be caught on film. My other favorite scene, I admit with guilt, is the one where the Baron and Baroness are readying themselves for bedtime, and prancing around the room in nightclothes calling each other by ultra-gooey-cute pet names. However, whenever the Baroness isn't looking, Baron Goldfinger takes a swing at her with an axe. It's the most entertainingly erotic scene in a kiddie flick since Natalie Wood was covered in cream pies while wearing only frilly turn-of-the-century underwear in "The Great Race".
This film is a rare treat. It's a film that appeals to kids and keeps adults interested at the same time. Let your kids watch it, watch it with them, or just watch it yourself when you're in the mood for some pure, escapist fun.
And try not to think about the Child Catcher when you go to bed afterward.