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The best Disney movie you've never seen is available on Disney+

This far into the industry-wide production shutdown, you've got to start digging deep for fresh content, and what better place to plant your shovel than Disney+?

If you dig hard and fast enough, you just might stumble upon a criminally underwatched Disney classic from 1971 called Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The film is a hybrid live-action and animated feature starring the incomparable Angela Lansbury (Murder, She Wrote) with integrated musical numbers composed by Richard and Robert Sherman. Those are the same Sherman brothers who composed the music for Mary Poppins, so we're dealing with some heavy hitters here. 

The film was directed by the late Robert Stevenson, a filmmaker best known for his work on Old Yeller and The Love Bug, the latter of which came out just three years before Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Screenwriters Bill Walsh (Flubber) and Don DaGradi (Lady and the Tramp) adapted the screenplay from a series of children's books by English author Mary Norton. The two books that the film's plot principally draws from are entitled How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons and Bonfires and Broomsticks, which were published in 1943 and 1947 respectively.

With so much talent involved in the production, it's a shame that more contemporary viewers haven't had the chance to experience Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The film is very close in form to its spiritual predecessor, Mary Poppins, which also made use of combined animated and live-action sequences. If you count yourself among the Disney devotees who haven't had a chance to take a ride on a magical queen bed with Eglantine Price and the Rawlins siblings, then here's what you're missing.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks puts a witchy spin on the struggle against fascism

Since Norton's books were written in the 1940s, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, it's perhaps no surprise that the film's main villains are Nazis. The plot concerns three English war orphans, Charlie (Ian Weighill), Carrie (Cindy O'Callaghan), and Paul Rawlins (Roy Snart), who escape the Blitz in London to be placed in foster care in the isolated village of Pepperinge Eye. Local spinster Miss Eglantine Price (Lansbury) draws the short straw in the village and has to take the siblings home with her to stay temporarily. 

The Rawlinses soon learn that Miss Price has an occult reason for living alone out in the country; she's a witch in training, currently enrolled in a hinky correspondence course offered out of London. In exchange for the Rawlinses' silence, Miss Price offers them a spell. She enchants the boys' bedknob so that they can use it to magically transport to any location their hearts' desire. The spell works, but soon after producing it, Miss Price learns that her course has been cancelled and she won't be receiving the final lesson. She convinces the Rawlins siblings to accompany her on the magical bed to London so she can confront the sketchy proprietor of her correspondence course (played by David Tomlinson) and demand the final lesson.

Miss Price is devoted to honing her witchcraft because she intends to use her magical powers to defend Pepperinge Eye against Nazi invasion. The final spell, which will supposedly allow her to breathe life into inanimate objects, is the cornerstone of her plan to fight the Germans.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks has an interesting history

Bedknobs and Broomsticks wasn't without accolades at the time of its release. The film won an Academy Award for visual effects, and was nominated for four others — including Best Song Original for the Picture. Angela Lansbury earned a Golden Globe nom for her performance in the lead role, but ultimately didn't win.

There's some confusion as to which version of the film originally appeared in theaters. According to Mark Arnold's book Frozen in Ice: The Story of Walt Disney Productions, 1966-1985, Bedknobs and Broomsticks was originally 141 minutes long. That cut was deemed too long for the planned Radio City Music Hall debut, and the film was slashed down to a lean 96 minutes. This deep cut excluded three entire musical numbers — "A Step in the Right Direction," "With a Flair," and "Nobody's Problems."

This was apparently the cut that most closely resembles the theatrical cut, as confirmed by the film's entry on IMDb, which pegs the runtime at 117 minutes. In 1996, a heroic restoration effort spearheaded by senior director of Disney's library Scott McQueen produced a faithful recreation of the original 141-minute cut. Some of the dialogue from the original film was unrecoverable, so actors Angela Lansbury and Roddy McDowell actually had to come in and re-record their lines nearly a quarter century after the film's release. The restored version originally played at the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences in California, and was subsequently broadcast on the Disney Channel two years later (via The Los Angeles Times). Either version is ultimately worth the watch, but it's the theatrical cut that you'll find on Disney+.

As for the film's magical resolution? If you want to find out whether Miss Price ever learns the secret to substitutiary locomotion and beats back the Nazis, you'll just have to watch.