Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Directed by Ken Hughes. With Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes, Lionel Jeffries, Gert Fröbe. A down-on-his-luck inventor turns a broken-down Grand Prix car into a fancy vehicle for his children, and then they go off on a magical fantasy adventure to save their grandfather in a far-off land.
While truant from school, young siblings Jeremy and Jemima meet the beautiful Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes), who falls for their widowed father, Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke), and his various oddball inventions, including the family’s noisy rebuilt car, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
Ken Hughes’ musical fantasy adventure film is one of those I have heard of but never actually seen. I may have come across it as a kid but certainly have no memory of it. In fact, my knowledge of it extends to the theme song and to a scary man that abducts children but other than that I didn’t know what to expect, or what the abductor’s motive was. Did he have issues from his own childhood? I didn’t have the answers. On the plus side, there was a screenplay written by Hughes and the late great author, Roald Dahl, whose books were essential reading in my primary school days. The omens were very good.
The film opens with a view of the European Grand Prix and one particular car that wins every race until it crashes in a burst of flames. These things happen. The wreckage ends up rusting on a piece of land in rural England where two children – Jeremy and Jemima Potts – take a liking to it. When an offer is put in to buy the car for scrap, the children beseech their eccentric inventor father, Caratacus Potts, to buy the car which he foolishly acquiesces to before realising the price. Caratacus must now find a way to raise the money for said car and avoid disappointing his children. I would have just said no. Perhaps an unexpected encounter with Truly Scrumptious, daughter of the wealthy Lord Scrumptious, might just be the salvation that Caratacus needs.
What little I knew about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was strangely missing for the first half of the film. The synopsis noted above plays out for the bulk of the film with the magical elements not coming until much, much later. Dick van Dyke is in good voice and delightfully peculiar as Caratcus Potts. The musical numbers are okay but aside from the title track, few remained long in the memory. This is a fun, action-packed adventure but at 2½ hours the film feels like quite a slog in places, an intimidating run-time for young children. That said, when the magic begins it’s quite a ride and you have to say a pretty fancy car as well.
Verdict: A pleasant family musical adventure weighed down by an overlong runtime.