This was the last film released prior to the death of Walt Disney's surviving brother, Roy O. Disney, who died one week later.
During The Blitz, Charlie, Carrie, and Paul are evacuated from London to the remote village of Pepperinge Eye, where they are placed in the reluctant care of Miss Eglantine Price, a reclusive woman who agrees to the arrangement temporarily. The three children attempt to run back to London, but change their minds after observing Miss Price attempting to fly on a broomstick. Miss Price reveals she is learning witchcraft through a correspondence school with hopes of using her spells in the British war effort, and offers the children a transportation spell in exchange for their silence. Miss Price casts the spell on a knob Paul has removed from the bed in the children’s shared bedroom, and she adds only Paul can work the spell.
Later, Miss Price receives a letter from her school announcing its closure, thus preventing her from learning the final spell. She convinces Paul to use the enchanted bed to return the group to London and locate the headmaster of the college, Professor Emelius Browne. They discover Browne is actually a charismatic showman who created the course from an old book and is surprised to learn the spells actually work for Miss Price. He gives the book to Miss Price, who is distraught to discover the final spell is missing. The group travels to Portobello Road to locate the rest of the book. They are approached by Swinburne, who takes them to his employer, the Bookman who possesses the remainder of the book. They exchange their pieces, but learn only the spell was inscribed on a medallion, the Star of Astaroth, that belonged to a sorcerer of that name. The Bookman reveals the medallion may have been taken by a pack of wild animals, given anthropomorphism by Astaroth, to a remote island called Naboombu.
It was said in the 17th century, a lascar claimed he saw Naboombu. The Bookman, however, does not believe the island exists, as he looked in every chart for it, until Paul confirms its existence via a storybook he found at Mr. Browne's residence. The group fly on the bed and land in the island’s lagoon, where they are brought before King Leonidas, who rules the island. He is wearing the Star of Astaroth, then invites Mr. Browne to act as a referee in a soccer match. The chaotic match ends in Leonidas’ self-proclaimed victory, but Mr. Browne cleverly swaps the medallion with his referee whistle as he leaves. Upon examining the Star, Miss Price finds the missing spell, “Substitutiary Locomotion”. When he discovers the theft, Leonidas pursues the travelers, but Miss Price transforms him into a rabbit and the five escape.
Back home, Miss Price prepares to try out the spell, but the Star has vanished back into the fantasy world of Naboombu. Paul reveals the spell "Substitutiary Locomotion" was actually in his storybook the whole time. Miss Price tries the spell on Mr. Browne’s shoes; while the spell works and imbues the shoes with life, she finds she inadvertently brought other items throughout the house to life as well, and has difficultly controlling them. Mrs. Hobday informs Miss Price the children can be relocated with another family, but Miss Price wants them to stay. Mr. Browne is leery of commitment, and when the children refer to him as a father figure, he attempts to return to London.
A platoon of Nazi commandos land on the coast and invade Miss Price’s house, where they imprison her and the children in the local museum. Mr. Browne comes to the rescue after observing more Nazis disabling phone lines, inspiring Miss Price to use "Substitutiary Locomotion" to enchant the museum’s exhibits into an army. The army of knights' armour and military uniforms chase the Nazis away, but as the Nazis retreat they destroy Miss Price’s workshop, ending her career as a witch. Though disappointed her career is over, she is happy she played a small part in the war effort. Mr. Browne enlists in the army, promising to return to Miss Price and the children and departs with the local Home Guard escorting him, while Paul reveals he still has the enchanted bedknob, hinting they can continue on with their adventures.Angela Lansbury as Miss Eglantine Price. Miss Price is initially a somewhat reclusive woman, reluctant to take in children from London as she believes they will get in the way of her witchcraft, which she prefers to keep secret but hopes to use to bring the nascent World War II to an end.
David Tomlinson as Mr. Emelius Browne. Introduced as "Professor Browne," the title by which Miss Price knows him, he is running a Correspondence College of Witchcraft based on what he believes to be "nonsense words" found in an old book. When Miss Price and the children find him in London, he is revealed to be a street performer and con artist, and not a very good one. He is, however, a smooth talker, which proves useful on the group's adventures, and believes in doing everything "with a flair." As the adventures unfold, he finds himself developing an attachment to Miss Price and the children, a feeling he struggles with.
Ian Weighill as Charles "Charlie" Rawlins. Charlie is the eldest of the orphaned Rawlins children; eleven, going on twelve, according to Carrie, an age which Miss Price calls "The Age of Not Believing." Accordingly, he is initially cynical and disbelieving of Miss Price's magical efforts, but comes around as time goes on; it is at his initial suggestion that Ms. Price uses the Substitutiary Locomotion spell on the museum artifacts.
Cindy O'Callaghan as Carrie Rawlins. Slightly younger than Charlie, she takes on a motherly attitude toward her brothers, especially Paul. She is the first to encourage a friendly relationship between Miss Price and the children.
Roy Snart as Paul Rawlins. Paul is about six; his possession of the bedknob and the Isle of Naboombu children's book lead to the group's adventures as well as the eventual solution to the quest for the Substitutiary Locomotion spell. Paul is prone to blurting out whatever is on his mind, which occasionally leads to trouble.
Roddy McDowall as Mr. Rowan Jelk, the local clergyman. Deleted scenes reveal Mr. Jelk to be interested in marrying Miss Price, largely for her property.
Sam Jaffe as the Bookman, a mysterious criminal also in pursuit of the Substitutiary Locomotion spell. It is implied that there is some history and bad blood between him and Mr. Browne.
Bruce Forsyth as Swinburne, a spiv and associate of the Bookman's who acts as his muscle.
Tessie O'Shea as Mrs. Jessica "Jessie" Hobday, the local postmistress of Pepperinge Eye and chairwoman of the War Activities Committee.
John Ericson as Colonel Heller, leader of the German raiding party which comes ashore at Pepperinge Eye.
Reginald Owen as Major General Sir Brian Teagler, commander of the local Home Guard.
Arthur Gould-Porter as Captain Ainsley Greer, a British Army captain who comes from HQ in London to inspect the Home Guard and becomes lost in the area. He is constantly running into locals who suspect him of being a Nazi in disguise.
Hank Worden as Old Home Guard Soldier (uncredited)
Cyril Delevanti as Elderly farmer
Lennie Weinrib as King Leonidas and Secretary Bird. The king is a lion, and a devoted football player with a fearsome temper, as well as a notorious cheat who is known to make up the rules as he goes along – according to Paul's book. His Secretary Bird is a prim and proper type who often bears the brunt of the king's temper.
Dallas McKennon as Bear. The Bear is a sailor and fisherman on the Isle of Naboombu who pulls the bed, with Miss Price's group on it, out of the lagoon with his fishing pole, and takes them to see the King after warning them of his temper.
Bob Holt as Codfish, a denizen of the Naboombu lagoon.
Leslie Caron, Lynn Redgrave, Judy Carne, and Julie Andrews were all considered for the role of Eglantine Price before the Disney studio decided on Lansbury. David Tomlinson replaced Ron Moody as Emelius Brown because Moody refused to star in the film unless he received top billing which the studio would not allow. Peter Ustinov was also considered before Tomlinson was cast.
Filming took place at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. The castle scenes were shot on location at Corfe Castle, Dorset, England.
The armor used for the climactic battle against the Nazis had been assembled in Spain for the movie El Cid and was later shipped to Burbank for use in the movie Camelot before being rented for this film.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks was originally intended to be a large-scale epic holiday release similar to Mary Poppins, but after its premiere, it was shortened from its two and a half-hour length (while the liner notes on the soundtrack reissue in 2002 claims it was closer to three hours) to a more manageable (to movie theatres) two hours. Along with a minor subplot involving Roddy McDowall's character, three songs were removed entirely, and the central dance number "Portobello Road" was shortened by more than six minutes. The 139-minute version of the film would eventually be published years later.
By 1976, the film had earned rentals of $8.5 million in North America. The movie was reissued theatrically on April 13, 1979, with a shorter running time of 96 minutes and all songs, excluding "Portobello Road" and "Beautiful Briny Sea", muted out.
The film has been released for home several times on VHS and DVD. Upon rediscovering the removed song "A Step in the Right Direction" on the original soundtrack album, Disney decided to reconstruct the film's original running length. Most of the film material was found, but some segments of "Portobello Road" had to be reconstructed from work prints with digital re-coloration to match the film quality of the main content. The footage for "A Step in the Right Direction" was never located. As of 2009, it remains lost, and it is believed that the footage was possibly destroyed. A reconstruction of "A Step in the Right Direction", using the original music track linked up to existing production stills, was included on the DVD as an extra to convey an idea of what the lost sequence would have looked like. The edit included several newly discovered songs, including "Nobody's Problems", performed by Lansbury. The number had been cut before the premiere of the film. Lansbury had only made a demo recording, singing with a solo piano because the orchestrations would have been added when the picture was scored. When the song was cut, the orchestrations had not yet been added; therefore, it was finally orchestrated and put together when it was placed back into the film.
The soundtrack for some of the spoken tracks was unrecoverable. Therefore, Lansbury and McDowall re-dubbed their parts, while other actors made ADR dubs for those who were unavailable. Even though David Tomlinson was still alive when the film was being reconstructed, he was in ill-health, and unavailable to provide ADR for Emelius Browne.
Some of the alternate actors who re-dubbed the newly inserted scenes had questionable likenesses to that of the original voices (the postmistress, for example, had a British regional accented voice that changed from Welsh to Scottish and back again on the reconstructed scenes). Elements of the underscoring were either moved or extended when it was necessary to benefit the new material. The extended version of the film was released on VHS and DVD on March 20, 2001, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the film. The reconstruction additionally marks the first time the film was presented in stereophonic sound. A new edition called Bedknobs and Broomsticks: Enchanted Musical Edition was released on DVD on September 8, 2009. This new single-disc edition is an identical transfer to the 30th Anniversary Edition, dropping the Scrapbook and Film Facts to make room for a Wizards of Waverly Place Special Effects featurette and a The Suite Life of Zack & Cody Blu-ray infomercial. The Sherman Brothers Featurette, the lost song "A Step in the Right Direction" and most of the other bonus features are retained from the previous edition.
The movie was released on Special Edition Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD on August 12, 2014, in its 117-minute General Release Version, with the deleted scenes used in the previous reconstructed version presented in a separate section on the Blu-ray disc. Many fans are disappointed that the 30th anniversary version has not been transferred onto Blu-ray as an option, (e.g. a Blu-ray set containing both the 117 -min and 140-min versions), as despite the ADR dubbing, many still prefer the longer uncut version.
The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics. It has a score of 63% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The film received five Academy Award nominations and won one.
The musical score for Bedknobs and Broomsticks was composed by Irwin Kostal, with all songs written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. A soundtrack album was released by Buena Vista Records in 1971. While the film was released in mono sound, the musical score was recorded in stereo and the soundtrack album was released in stereo. An expanded soundtrack album was later released on CD on August 13, 2002.
These songs include:"The Old Home Guard"
"The Age of Not Believing" (received an Oscar nomination for Best Song Original for the Picture)
"With a Flair" (only in the reconstruction)
"Don't Let Me Down" (only in the reconstruction)
"The Beautiful Briny"
"A Step in the Right Direction"
"Nobody's Problems" (only in the reconstruction)
"Solid Citizen" (replaced by the soccer match)
"Fundamental Element" (sections were incorporated into "Don't Let Me Down")
The three child stars of the film shared their recollections on an edition of The One Show broadcast on BBC One on 3 May 2016 and Angela Lansbury recorded a short filmed tribute to them. The two boys did not go any further with their film careers; Ian Weighill who played the older boy, Charlie, reportedly became a train engineer and Roy Snart who played the younger boy, Paul, is the head of a software company. Cindy O'Callaghan, who played Carrie, went on to appear in numerous television productions including "EastEnders" and "Gem".