It’s time for a celebration of childhood nostalgia movies here at Required Viewing. These are the films that we’ve seen so early and so often that we don’t even remember when we first saw them or how many times we’ve viewed them. Today, we have Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which answers the question: “What happens when you pair Roald Dahl with Ian Fleming for a children’s film starring Dick Van Dyke?” First up, Brooke will share what she thought of this film and how much it impacted her that AM told her it was a Disney film. On your mark, get set, GO!
B: Okay. First, I’ve been told that I saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a wee child, but I can say with absolute certainty that I remembered none of it at all. Actually, the best contextual reference I had to it prior to this screening was from Ace Ventura 2.
Do I even dare ask if you’ve seen the Ace movies, AM? Anyhoo. Going into this movie, I was given (and readily accepted) the idea that this was a Walt Disney picture. I was also under the impression based on suggestive scenes in the movie that I was meant to take the extended dream sequence as real. So, yeah, I spent more than two hours thinking this was all a very off-brand drug-fueled excursion for Disney. Some really, really, really bizarre stuff goes down in that dream sequence that is basically the whole entire movie. As a result, I was probably as vocal in my viewing of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as I am whenever we watch The Hills. But, I don’t apologize, because I’m pretty sure AM got the reactions she was looking for.
Before I hand this thing off, I just want to bring up a few questions we need to discuss. And as we’re joined by a special guest watcher — Nicole — for this two-headed journey into our childhood favorites, I think I’ll enjoy some backup when I say that parts of this movie were BONKERS.
Let us discuss the following if you please: 1. Chitty’s creator seems to be constantly surprised by the car’s innovations. 2. Ian Fleming went fully Bond all over these things and we have a place named Vulgaria and a woman named Truly Delicious. 3. In Vulgaria, there are no children, but there is a HAUNTING clown-Rasputin guy who uses every creeper trick in the book to catch children. 4. The manchild ruler of Vulgaria wants to straight-up murder his wife.
Your thoughts my friends, I need them. After that, I’ll get into some of the things I loved about this wild trip.
A: First of all, it’s my fault you thought this was a Disney trip, because I told you it was. I know I’ve made that mistake often, and you can probably guess why if you know who created the film. The screenplay may have been by Dahl, but the music and lyrics were by the Sherman Brothers (best known for that little Disney live-action flick Mary Poppins and so many others) and the star was Dick Van Dyke, who four years earlier had starred in Poppins. We’ll get to the fact that you HAVEN’T EVEN SEEN MARY POPPINS later. I at least have seen two Ace Ventura films, and Thor help us if there are more than two.
So yes, I always forget that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang wasn’t Disney, but I probably shouldn’t have told you it was, because I think the thing you were most shocked about was how it seemed so off-brand. Disney got a little psychedelic, especially in the 1960s (see: Alice in Wonderland, Bednobs and Broomsticks, the drug-fueled Pink Elephants on Parade in Dumbo, etc.), but I do agree that the extended “dream” sequence can get bizarre. I still maintain that it’s not that crazy, but maybe I’m biased because I find it all so delightful.
Let’s unpack some more. Caractacus Potts does indeed seem mildly surprised when it turns out his renovated car can not only be a boat, but it can fly. I have determined that this is because he did the surface work of getting Chitty to run again, but he didn’t actually empower it with float or flight. The kids say in the beginning that she’s a very special car, after all! I’ll pause here and also cite the fact that my parents always named cars and I’ve always been super convinced that they have personalities. I do that with a lot of inanimate objects, but cars especially.
Also, the woman’s name is SCRUMPTIOUS, Brooke. Scrumptious. Not Delicious. It never occurred to me that this would be taken in a vulgar or sexual way so clearly I’m an innocent summer child. I did decide that Baron von Bombast, the manchild ruler of Vulgaria is remarkably, disturbingly similar to one Donald Trump so I guess we have his shenanigans to look forward to for the next few years?
And speaking of disturbing, I cannot think of a more terrifying villain that the Childcatcher. He’s creepy, almost inhuman with the giant long nose, and he’s tasked with capturing children and throwing them in a dungeon. So. Fucking. Awful. I’m quite certain I’ve had Childcatcher nightmares.
I’ve always been deeply bothered by the Childcatcher, so I was always so relieved to find that the bulk of the movie, the part you got so angry about, Brooke, is only a story. He’s not real, the Baron and his horrid diamond-encrusted wife he wants to kill aren’t real but the car’s magical abilities are very real. What could be better? Ok, enough from me. What say you on this trip?
N: I was under the impression that I had seen this before, but I now realize I was thinking about Bednobs and Broomsticks which also contains questionable flying devices and singing. I have to agree with Brooke that the dream/story sequence gets a bit weird. Like really weird.
I also picked up on the children’s comment that the car was special, so I’m on board with Chitty being the true mastermind as the stakes increase. Chitty herself is reminiscent of Bond movies, where the cars and gadgets do more than meets the eye. Besides the obviously named Truly Scrumptious, can we discuss the name Caractacus? I still can’t pronounce it. Or spell it.
The more I think about the creeptastic Childcatcher the more I want his own spinoff. It would definitely be a horror movie. Where does he come from? What is that hook for? I’m freaking myself out thinking about it. Why did you have to get so dark, Potts?
B: I am 100% on board for a Childcatcher horror flick. That guy is so haunting. So obviously, I kind of love him. The potential here is vast. Mr. Dahl did always have a knack for crafting some real creep vibes. I remember my entire third-grade class losing our minds with fear when our teacher read us The Witches. She hammed it up big time, and in the intervening years I’ve become convinced that she dressed for the part to have exactly the impact she did. Which is to say we wondered for a hot second if she was one of them. What a badass move. 10/10 student trolling.
Caractacus is quite a wacky name, I agree, but I dig it. After all, Potts is quite an original, so he needs a standout name to suit his personality. And to that point, I love the way Dick played this guy. The way he sort of toddles about as if his head is in the clouds and holds his intellect as a badge of honor is charming, but his willingness to shed all of that to delight his kids is disarmingly wonderful. Still, he’s not my favorite character. For one, I loved the Baron’s bumbling spies. Their wonderfully bad attempts to fit in as regular ol’ Brits tickled me to death. As one prone to lapse into a poor English accent, I fully catch what they are throwing. Still, for me the most glorious character is Grandpa. Here’s a guy who struts around in his old uniform, pops up whenever there is food and sings a song about being posh in a flying box that looks like a portable loo (but isn’t). I need to hang out with this chap.
Another element that I made a good deal of commentary about as we watched is how terrible absolutely everyone is at planning rescues in the story portion of the movie. Of course, this flaw is a source of great joy, like when a character in a horror movie goes into the woods or the creepy house alone — I love armchair quarterbacking and we got a lot of opportunity to do so here.
Friends, let’s talk about that child revolution in Vulgaria. Those kids were out for blood. Obviously, they must factor in the Childcatcher spinoff. Discuss.
A: Before we get back into the Childcatcher and the Children’s Revolution that’s underway, I want to discuss how the Baron is trying in vain to murder his wife. There’s a whole song and dance number masked by cutesie nicknames (seriously, I think they use the phrase “boopie face” multiple times) that is so intensely dark because Manchild is simply setting up his wife for a brutal death by stabbing, falling or choking. I mostly love that she’s either completely oblivious or she knows what’s up and is dodging death with each prance.
Ok, the revolution. What are the chances that the ruling class makes it out alive? It’s clearly not just the ban on children that’s got them upset, although that’s probably enough. They run in to join their kidnapped kids with literal pitchforks and I am imagining them dismembering the Childcatcher, so that makes me slightly happy.
The “rescue” portion of the film, which encompasses a lot of the time spent in Vulgaria, is just abysmally planned and executed, I agree. They leave Chitty, leave Truly with the kids, who leaves the kids to find food and they only happen to stumble upon Grandpa as they’re pulling out of town! I do feel like Grandpa would have figured out a thing or two and might have escaped on his own volition anyway, because I agree, he’s the best. My favorite song in the film is the “Posh” traveling life bit done while the Vulgarians are trying (poorly) to hoist him and his not-outhouse back to their castle.
Let’s talk about more things I love, shall we? I love that Grandpa is clearly delusional and thinks he’s actually going to have tea with the Maharajah in India when he gets into his not-outhouse, but I think he also passed on a love of tall tales to his son, who’s doing his level best to convey that whimsy and playfulness to his children. I love that Caractacus is such an awesome dad and has crafted this amazing, inventive world for his children to inhabit. Did anyone else notice that he’s not using an English accent whatsoever? I love that too. Be more like Sean Connery and just use your damn native accent.
I know that there’s some solid evidence that Dahl hated children, and I do agree he loves putting children into rather dire circumstances in his stories, but I interpret it more that he’s treating kids like capable young adults, who figure out what to do in dangerous situations and ultimately come out better for it. Sure, the gang in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory get somewhat maimed, but they all go home with a lifetime supply of chocolate (plus all of them minus Charlie were the literal worst anyway and had it coming). The kid in The Witches turns into a mouse, but he gets to live a fantastic mouse life with his beloved grandmother. Matilda goes through some awful shit, but she gets what she wants and deserves by getting to live with her awesome teacher who also turns out to be a surprise heiress. And I could go on. Clearly, Dahl is one of my favorite authors, even if he’s curmudgeonly. And while you can see Fleming’s “Bond” influence in this film, the name Truly Scrumptious is the most Dahl name ever, and I love it mostly because the children come up with a song about how her name matches her personality and looks and it’s so cute.
I mentioned before about how Chitty clearly influenced my relationship to my cars, and I also want to point out that the castle they use as Vulgaria’s capital is the very famous and iconic Neuschwanstein, built in the 19th century by Ludwig II of Bavaria. It’s one of those fairy tale castles that we think of when we think “castle” and it was one my mom still talks about as one of her favorite spots in Europe.
Oh the posh posh traveling life, the traveling life for me!
What else would be featured in the Childcatcher spinoff? Obviously I want nothing to do with its production, but I am curious what you ladies come up with.
N: Annemarie, I love the idea that the Grandpa passed on his fondness of tales to Caractacus. It totally makes sense. Grandpa is probably my favorite character as well for all the traits already mentioned, but I also ended up really liking Truly. She seemed like the most sensible adult in the whole movie, but was totally willing to go on this crazy journey with them. Her instinct to drive into the pond when there was an oncoming car is understandable after driving on some of those narrow British country roads myself. Her dresses were pretty posh, especially the white one with the billowy sleeves on the fateful beach day. I would consider rocking it. But I also think she has the best dance number as the doll spinning for the Baron.
In terms of the revolution, the Baroness probably slipped away since she was in the sea last we saw her, but I don’t see a happy ending for the Baron and Childcatcher. There’s no way that Childcatcher wasn’t doing this to some other towns as well. I’m thinking the spinoff title should be The Childcatcher, simple and right up Mr. Dahl’s street.
B: Praise be to Truly for her sensibility. She’s got a Hermione-ish quality to her that I really enjoy. It was fully on display in that moment when she informs Caractacus that his sweets have holes in because his boiling point is too high. She drops that knowledge with such authority that I have to respect her. I like to think that she’ll factor into the spinoff somehow — perhaps as an expert witness or something. I am for this spinoff to be as dark as it gets and earn a hard-R rating. I think Steve Carell could walk the line between whimsy and terror that we require exceptionally well.
I have one final question for you both. Do you think the Toot Sweets are hard candy or chewy candy? I assumed a sucker/Jolly Rancher like material at first, but at some point in the number, I swear I just saw people munching on them. I’d quite like to try a pineapple one.
A: Steve Carell would be perfect! Of course, he’d have to have a prosthetic nose, but I like that a lot. I wouldn’t watch it, of course. But I like it.
Toot Sweets, or Woof Sweets as they became in the end for their uncanny ability to summon dogs, are most certainly hard candy. I remember a candy from childhood (as one does) that was either inspired or ripped off from this film: Melody Pops. They came with a mini song sheet you could play with your candy, and it was 100% a Jolly Rancher-like pop. And apparently now you can get them in Australia, and of course, on Amazon. I might procure some for our next watch party as I feel like this experience should be shared.
N: It did look like someone was eating the sweets like it was a taffy, but I also imagined a Jolly Rancher material. Maybe all the hot air from your mouth softens it up? Time for some science experiments with those Melody Pops.
B: Bring on the candy, AM! We need answers.
Join us next time as we watch a very different childhood favorite. It’s a tale of amnesia, mistaken identity, stolen Nefertiti earrings and the personals. 1985 here we come.