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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Special Edition

At first, it's surprising to learn that Sir Ian Fleming — creator of cinema's most celebrated spy — wrote the children's story upon which Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) is based. But when you stop and think about it, the sprightly tale of the magical motorcar has "James Bond, Jr." written all over it, from crazy gadgets to women with unusual names (in this case, the G-rated Truly Scrumptious). The fact that the movie, with its catchy melodies and European setting, also bears a passing resemblance to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is more than just a coincidence as well — famed children's author Roald Dahl was one of Chitty's two screenwriters. With that much talent behind the scenes and a gifted star like Dick Van Dyke on camera, it's no wonder the film is still a favorite. Van Dyke plays Caractacus Potts, father of Jeremy (Adrian Hall) and Jemima (Heather Ripley) and eccentric inventor extraordinaire. It's Potts who rescues Chitty from the junk-heap and turns her into the "fine four-fendered friend" who takes the whole family — as well as pretty candy heiress Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes) — on a wild adventure into the heart of Vulgaria to save Grandpa Potts (Lionel Jeffries) from the clutches of the evil Baron Bomburst (played by erstwhile Goldfinger Gert Frobe). The kids are cute, the story is inventive, and the songs are fun, if uneven (the title tune is a classic, while others stray dangerously close to cheesiness, even for a family film), but the movie's main draw is Van Dyke. Whether demonstrating an impressive talent at Morris dancing ("Me Ol' Bamboo") or mugging like an oversized rag doll, the flexible, likable comedian steals the show with his ready grin and palpable enthusiasm (just as he did in Mary Poppins). Not that the supporting cast doesn't do a good job: Jeffries is all blustering pomp as Grandpa, and both Frobe and Benny Hill (who plays a mild-mannered toymaker) seem to get a big kick out of playing against type, while Howes contributes a lovely voice and a flirtatiously feminine counterpoint to van Dyke's Caractacus. All in all, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is one of those musicals that will always be fondly remembered from childhood — if for no other reason than that the song sticks in your head for life. MGM certainly pulled out all the stops for its two-disc special edition DVD. Tucked inside a cardboard slipcase is a tri-fold digipak with two discs and a glossy Chitty storybook. The first disc, which is double-sided, offers both anamorphic (2.20:1) and full-screen transfers of the film (the source-print is in good shape, considering its age), as well as a sing-along feature and a sneak peek at the Chitty Broadway musical. Language options include English Dolby Digital 5.1, French and Spanish Dolby 2.0 Surround, and Portuguese mono tracks, as well as English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles. Pop Disc Two in the player for the rest of the set's special features: two new featurettes and three vintage ones, rare audio recordings of the film's songs, an advertising gallery, behind-the-scenes photos, an interactive storybook, two games, DVD-ROM features, and trailers. The highlight of the disc is the new 26-minute retrospective interview with Van Dyke, who shares interesting stories about making the movie; the only thing missing from the features list is a "Where Are They Now?" update on his costars. Perhaps they're stuck somewhere in Vulgaria....
—Betsy Bozdech

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