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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes, Gert Frobe, Lionel Jeffries, Benny Hill, Anna Quayle

Written By: Roald Dahl, Ken Hughes, Ian Fleming (novel), Richard Maibaum (additional dialogue)

Directed By: Ken Hughes

The Short Version

The creator of James Bond presents a childrens’ story!

The makers of the Bond movies bring it to the screen!

The result is not as exciting as that sounds… at least not for modern adults.

Dick Van Dyke suggested this film would “out-Disney Disney;” he was wrong.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is well thought of through nostalgia; a fresh view tames it down to “kinda fun, but.”

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


It has holes in it.  Perhaps it could be fashioned into a whistle?

Pairs Well With...


It kinda looks like a Shirley Temple, but it’s strong enough to see adults through the interminable sing alongs and the drawn-out plot.

“Truly Scrumptious. You know, even if we didn't know your name, we could have guessed it.”


“You had to be called something lovely.”

“Like Yum-Yum!”

“Or Angel Cake!”

Once upon a time, Ian Fleming – the creator of the womanizing, alcoholic assassin we’ve come to know and love as James Bond, 007 – decided to write a novel for his young son.  It was an adventure story centered around a magical car with a mind of its own named Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and two months after Fleming’s death, it was published for children (and adults) the world over to enjoy.

Four years after that, many of the very same people who worked to bring an Fleming’s James Bond to the silver screen came together to do the same for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  Through the rose colored glasses of nostalgia – and perhaps even more honestly, through the eyes of a child, especially one of the 1960s – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is remembered as just as wonderful of a success in the realm of family filmmaking as the 007 series is considered the greatest success in the realm of adult-centric adventure films.

A modern viewing – especially one right on the heels of a fresh reading of Fleming’s original story – may turn up results a little less generous.

On the one hand, I can absolutely see young children still thoroughly enjoying Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, though at nearly two and a half hours – making this the longest youngster-targeted film released by a major studio prior until the coming of Harry Potter – their attention spans may be challenged.  And therein for me lies my first major issue with the movie: though I have no objection to long movies as a rule, this one feels interminable.  And it’s not just the sing alongs – I understand that these are hazard of the genre that adults are forced to navigate as a matter of course, though I will say that get to be a stretch here, especially “Choochy-Face” – but rather, the drawing out of the material and the addition of needless subplots. 

Indeed, the final result isn’t really about the title car, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, at all; it’s about a silly “proper rich girl / messy poor man” romance that doesn’t exist at all in Fleming’s story (which features a well-adjusted, happily married couple).  This – and the major arc about the evil Baron of Vulgaria (played by Goldfinger himself, Gert Frobe) – is a product of the imagination of the man behind “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Roald Dahl, who had also recently written the screenplay for You Only Live Twice.  Despite fair chemistry between Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes (playing Dahl’s invented character of ‘Truly Scrumptious’ – a nod to Fleming’s penchant for bestowing naughty names upon his Bond girls), the romance is forced, and the Vulgaria plot borders on being uncomfortably creepy during the rare moments when it makes sense.  This “extra” and “replacement” material eats up the majority of the picture’s runtime; indeed, the family doesn’t actually take possession of the car until nearly fifty minutes in.  Not only does Chitty Chitty Bang Bang feel like it will never end; it also takes forever to begin.

I’m generally not the sort of person who fast forwards his way through movies, but if I were so inclined, then this would definitely be a flick to trigger that behavior.

Dick Van Dyke, doing publicity for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, suggested that this movie would “out-Disney Disney,” taking a friendly jab at the studio for which he’d so recently done an extremely memorable turn in Mary Poppins.  But however well-remembered Chitty Chitty Bang Bang may be in the popular memory, an objective fresh look proves otherwise.  The easy, sensible flow common to most of Disney’s classics – and present in Fleming’s own pristine “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” novel, for that matter – just isn’t present in this overlong, overwrought presentation.  It both tries too hard and doesn’t try hard enough, and while some (and I do mean some) kids may gladly look past that, as an adult, it’s a difficult trick to pull.

And yet… as Mary Poppins herself once noted, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and there’s still a fair amount of sugar to be found in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  The cast is wonderful, and yes, as a James Bond fan, I appreciated the inclusion of Gert Frobe as the villain and Desmond Llewellyn as the early custodian of the film’s title car.  There are too many songs that go too far afield, but that doesn’t mean there are not any gems amongst them; indeed, I will gladly say that the music and the choreography for the climactic piece during the Baron’s birthday celebration are nothing short of delightful.  Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is not a bad movie… it’s just not “the most fantasmagorical musical entertainment in the history of everything,” not matter what the poster says or how it spells the words.

Bottom line, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is fun enough, I suppose, especially if one has children in tow, but it’s not the fantastic film that the rose colored lenses of nostalgia might otherwise suggest.  It’s easy enough to get a free look at on streaming services, so by all means, do, but if you want the real story of the world’s most fantastic family-friendly automobile, read Ian Fleming’s book instead.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, December, 2014

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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