Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke), the standard issue wacky, eccentric inventor in Victorian England, ardently searches for the One Big Invention that will make him rich and provide a better life for his two children and even more eccentric father (Lionel Jeffries). Since his inventions, by and large, seem to be the prototypes for those employed by Wile E. Coyote, this seems like a lost cause - though while hiding from one of the victims of his machinery, Potts accidentally earns enough money to buy the junked race car his children idolize, refurbish it, and spin a yarn to the tykes about the magical auto.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was an event film, like Lawrence of Arabia; it played limited engagements at movie theaters, one could reserve seats, and was so long, it had an intermission - which is an odd thing for a film targeted for the younger set. Make no mistake, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is an often overlooked, fine family film... but there's nearly an hour of Van Dyke's fairly goofy misadventures before the title character even shows up. Thereafter, the rest of the film is Potts' fanciful tale of how he, the kids and love interest Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes) must journey to the land of Baron Bomburst (Gert Fröbe), a European fantasy land where children have been outlawed.
An hour is a long time for kids to wait for their flying, floating magic car, and you are certainly going to lose them during the ballads; the livelier tunes, however, will grab them (and you, most likely). It's easy to forget, after years of "Diagnosis: Murder" what a fine song and dance man was Van Dyke; and nobody knew how to throw money at the big screen like producer Cubby Broccoli. It's a long strange trip - nearly two and a half hours - but Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is good family entertainment - even if Baron Bomburst continually tries to (good-naturedly) kill his wife over and over again.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang begins in 2:35:1 widescreen glory, but suddenly resolves to pan-and-scan leadenness after the titles. Past this transgression, the film master is beautifully clean, and the 5.1. remix serviceable.
There's the theatrical trailer, a booklet of production trivia, and it's possible to turn on karaoke-type lyrics during the songs, so you, too, can join in the proto-rap number "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". Past that, the list of extras seem to have been drawn up by the same killjoy that decided to present the Super Panavision production in pan-and-scan
Dr. Freex, 1/2/2001