I didn’t have cable television growing up; we lived in the middle of the woods with a driveway longer than the cable company’s ability to bury a line up its length. My brother and I were relegated to what we could get to come through the rabbit ears on channels 3, 6, 10, and our beloved PBS station, WHYY. Sometimes, if it was raining and particularly windy, or, weirdly, one of us was sick, we could catch grainy movies and syndicated Gilligan’s Island reruns on channel 17. It was on fuzzy station that I squintingly watched 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Incredible Mr. Limpett, and a little film called Mary Poppins.
We started taping it halfway through, hastily shoving a blank videocassette into our pop-up VCR, about the time Mary, Michael, and Jane meet Burt in the park and are admiring his paintings, not quite believing what we were watching (and no, I’m not referring to Dick Van Dyke’s accent or make-up). By the time Mary and Burt were dashing through “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” I thought I might never watch another movie again. You know how there’s those drama kids in high school who live in Phantom of the Opera t-shirts? You two were my elementary school Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Richard and Robert, the music you wrote together and separately was the soundtrack of my childhood. Shortly after that jolly holiday with Mary, it seemed like you two were everywhere. Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Snoopy Come Home, all those Winnie the Pooh movies… you were everywhere my little ears turned. The premiere of The Disney Sunday Movie on channel 6 in 1986 really ratcheted up your exposure in my little world, but it wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I put it all together with a little help from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
My older son was pretty obsessed with old-fashioned race cars when he was three, but I had no idea what I was getting our family into when I innocently dropped a Chitty Blu-ray into my Amazon cart close to Christmas. We watched it on Christmas day. We watched it again on Christmas night. We watched it again on Boxing Day. And so on. A friend made him an old-fashioned racing cap and upcycled a set of pool goggles to resemble driving goggles. We watched Chitty while he wore those. Sometime close to his fourth birthday, he slipped on one of the toy race cars he used to line up down our long hallway, cutting his lip on a heating grate. While we waited in the ER for him to get stitched up, he climbed up on a bench and gave the entire waiting room a performance of his own Chitty revue.
I, too, got pretty obsessed with Chitty (I also have a bit of a thing for Dick Van Dyke, to add another layer to this whole thing); my husband and I routinely quote it (a slight squeeze on the hooter is always a good safety precaution); and now both of my kids point out “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” cars whenever we see a classic car out for a Sunday drive. It’s a masterpiece because of you.
I was so saddened to learn that Robert had passed away in 2012. I have no idea, but I want to believe the funeral was joyful, filled with music and love, reuniting old casts, and everyone sang “It’s A Small World (After All)” at the end. It only seems fitting.
It’s A Small World (After All)