Actually there’s not much of a debate. Of the three (Pete’s Dragon was the third, but it’s too pathetic to mention except by way of dismissal: “Razzle Dazzle Day”? Please) major live action/animated mix movies that Disney did between 1960-1980, only one is a truly spectacular film in all respects.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
In every way (except arguably one) it’s better than Mary Poppins. (And anything was better than Pete’s Dragon. And I’m including the Black Hole when I say that)
For one thing, B&B has a plot. An actual plot where there’s rising action, climax, falling action, character development, excitement menace, etc. whereas Mary Poppins is twee. Nauseateingly treacley. Icky. And NOTHING happens.
In B&B, there’s the menace of the Nazis, the menace of the King from the island of Naboomboo(sp), the menace of Roddy McDowell who plays a subtley creepy minister. In Mary Poppins? There’s penguins who soft shoe. Wheee.
The big climax of B&B features a kick-ass battle of revanants and spectral minions versus Nazis. The big climax of Mary Poppins features…um…David Tomilson telling a joke to a badly made up Dick Van Dyke. And he doesn’t even die!
Granted, Julie Andrews is a better singer than Angela Langsbury but Angela’s damned good nonetheless (she’s good enough to sing Sondheim scores) and Angela is able to get a range of emotions both acted and sung far beyond anything Julie’s ever portrayed on the screen.
The songs are better too: In Mary Poppins, each song is an excuse to do a song. The songs are fully integrated into B&B, from “Age of Not Believing” to “With a Flair” to the obvious attempt to rip off the success of “Supercalifragilisticepialidocious”) “Substitutionary Locomotion”. But in a rare turn of events, the rip-off is better than the original. “Super…etc.” doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t move the plot forward. It’s just there. “Sub…etc” summons the forces of darkness to torment Roddy McDowell and kick Nazi ass.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks hasn’t gotten the respect it’s deserved for two reasons: One, it was seen as an obvious attempt to cash in on the phenominal success of Mary Poppins (and, let’s be honest, it probably was) but Two, it’s been butchered all these years. If you haven’t seen the new DVD release of it, you haven’t really seen the movie.
Three(?) dance numbers and huge chunks of dialogue (about 40 minutes total, IIRC) were dropped (and one number was lost forever) because some asshole at Radio City Music Hall wanted to get in an extra show or two a day. This led to some bizarre plot holes. (For one, the scene it’s revealed that Paul, Carrie and Charles’s guardian was killed and their parents are long dead is gone. This is pretty important to a later scene. It also adds some depth to them that Jane and Michael never have. Paul and Carrie coulda kicked Jane and Michael’s spoiled rotten asses to Trafalgar Square and back. )
If you haven’t seen the newly restored version with everything but the one lost number restored (and that one number is recreated with photographs that give a pretty good idea of what it must have looked like) you must.
Mary Poppins is fun, it was well done, but ultimately, it was fluff. Cotton Candy. It looks pretty, but when you bite into it, there’s nothing there except icky sweetness. It’s all style and no substance whereas (the restored) Bedknobs and Broomsticks from the moment it opens to the moment it ends is simply a much better movie.