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The One-Line Summary: When a race car at the beginning of the 20th Century has its last race, it’s left for scrap and ends up with an eccentric widowed inventor and his two young children who rebuild the motorcar with parts of a motorboat and a chimney, which when traveling to a far away wonderland where an evil king wants to steal it, gives the car magical properties that makes it skim along the water and fly in the sky, all the while chugging along with a mechanical, musical chitty-chitty-bang-bang.
The Two-Line Blurb: From Ian Fleming, the writer of the James Bond novels and Albert R. Broccoli co-producer of the early films, comes this elaborate, epically long, musical children’s film that aims very specifically at younger audiences and has little for anyone else, with mostly forgettable songs that are redeemed only by the great physical feats of the immeasurably talented Dick Van Dyke, who had made children cheer four years earlier in Walt Disney‘s Mary Poppins. The special effects are the real letdown though as even by late 1960s standards, it takes a lot of imagination to believe things on screen are meant to be real.
The Three-Line Set-up: Caractacus Potts (Van Dyke) and this children are traveling with Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes), a beautiful, wealthy socialite who befriends the family and is intrigued by Caractacus’ wild inventions, seeing potential in the man’s abilities. The children, naturally, think their father and Truly would make a wonderful couple and delight in their traveling together. Driving through the countryside, they eventually have a picnic on a beach where Caractacus tells the story of the evil Baron Bomburst (Goldfinger himself – Gert Fröbe), the dictator of fictional Vulgaria who wants to steal chitty-chitty-bang-bang.
The Four-Line Moment: While telling the story, the family suddenly becomes stranded by the changing tide and take refuge in the motorcar that suddenly sprouts flotation pontoons, though are soon attacked by Bomburst’s pirate ship before escaping to dry land where they are pursued by more henchmen and then take flight as chitty-chitty-bang-bang reveals more amazing magical powers. They are shocked to see Caractacus’s father, Grandpa Potts (Lionel Jeffries) being kidnapped, wrongly thought to be the inventor of the car. They give chase and land in Vulgaria where Baroness Bomburst despises all children and hires a maniacal Childcatcher (Robert Helpmann) to round them all up. One of the more terrifying moments in any children’s movie, the Childcatcher is a creepy, malicious cretin who lures victims with promises of free candy and ice cream, making his brief appearance one long to remember.
The Five-Word Review: Tries hard but lacks wonder.