Making the Grades
Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyck) likes to tinker in his laboratory where he invents time saving devices like the breakfast server, vacuum cleaner and automatic hair cutter. Unfortunately none of his inventions work… at least not very well.
Meanwhile his children, Jemima (Heather Ripley) and Jeremy (Adrian Hall), wander around the countryside instead of attending school. One day their free spirited ramblings cause Miss Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes) to run her car into a mossy pond on the side of the road. After removing her automobile from the water, she offers to take the two home in order to have a word with their father. But Professor Potts is far more worried about getting his latest rocket powered contraption to work than his youngster’s truancy.
Yet despite his seeming lack of parental concern and his obvious eccentricities, Truly begins to feel something for the absent-minded and bumbling creator. Accepting an invitation to picnic with the single father and his offspring, she spends a full day of fun with them on a sandy beach. Then Caractacus begins to tell a captivating tale. Before they realize it, pirates begin firing upon the beachgoers. Luckily their car, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, is a magical machine that can not only drive but also float.
Even better, it can fly. So when their grandfather (an equally peculiar character played by Lionel Jeffries) is captured by Baron Bomburst (Gert Frobe) and his henchmen (Alexander Doré and Bernard Spear), and hauled off to a remote castle, the group takes to the sky to rescue the patriarch. Truly and the Potts family touch down in the small village below the fortress, where they meet the local toymaker (Benny Hill) who tries to protect Jeremy and Jemima from a crafty child catcher (Robert Helpmann) that locks away any kids he finds.
The lighthearted adventure takes a darker turn when both are lured into the catcher’s horse drawn cage and hauled off to the royal court where Baroness Bomburst (Anna Quayle) banishes them to a prison cell. That depiction, along with the portrayal of more youngsters hidden in a dungeon under the castle, may upset some viewers. Other violence includes slapstick antics, a character that barely avoids death at the hand of her husband and riot-like mayhem when the town’s children escape their imprisonment.
Watching this movie as a child, I loved the idea of a flying car and spent hours pretending our family station wagon could do the same. (Imagine my disappointment when I couldn’t find any fold out wings under the chassis.) As a parent of little ones, I had legitimate concerns about the scariness of the child catcher and the depicted moments of peril. But revisiting the film a third time with older kids, I found much of the original charm. While the silly antics and unconventional characters may not be for everyone, the idea of setting off on an adventure—even if it is just make believe—is a wonderful reminder of the power of storytelling.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
What challenges do inventors face when perfecting their creations? What problem did Professor Potts have with his candy? What other inventions have come about by chance or as the result of an apparent failure? Read about 3M’s Post-it Notes, Penicillin, and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.
If you could go on any adventure, what mode of transportation would you want? What special capabilities would it have?