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Blue Bird

A movie directed by Walter Lang

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Dreaming in Technicolor...

  • Dec 5, 2001
Pros: Well acted and well cast with beautiful settings.

Cons: It is only 83 minutes long!

The Bottom Line: A simply beautiful movie for any age viewer

This 1940 children's film was bashed by critics and generally considered to be Shirley Temple's least popular film. Based upon the play by Maurice Maeterlinck and inspired by the production The Wizard of Oz, critics claimed it was too heavy-handed. Shirley was an amazing tonic for the Depression era, but this film seemed to be the beginning of the end for her career in movies. She was no longer the adorable little doll that America had treated as it's only princess. She was doing the one thing that audiences at the time just couldn't seem to deal with; she was growing up.

I learned many of these tidbits in a biography I recently caught on cable and frankly, I was shocked. As a little girl, I was spell-bound by Shirley Temple and The Bluebird was the first film that began my youthful addiction to her works. I still haven't seen every film she ever did, but I do still watch them and this particular movie is one of three Temple films that I own.

Like Wizard of Oz, Bluebird begins in black and white, but unlike Dorothy we do not feel an immediate like and sympathy with Mytyl. She is bossy, rude, selfish, unappreciative, disobedient and a bit spoiled. Hard to imagine Shirley Temple being any of those things and these unsavory characteristics are never carried to the extreme that some of her arch-enemies in other films.

Yet we see her disobeying her parents by taking her younger brother Tyltyl into the King's forest and catching herself a songbird. When they are stopped on the way home by a poor bed-ridden neighbor girl, Mytyl rather rudely refuses to trade or give up her feathered prize which would bring this pitiful child so much joy. Seeing Miss Temple behave in such a selfish and mean-spirited manner is a shocking impact which only continues once she is home. There she immediately begins to complain of all the things she does not have and even throws a fit at the dinner table! Her parents try to point out to her all the things she should appreciate and be thankful for, but their warnings seem to have no effect.
It is only when they learn that their father is going to be called away to war that her eyes begin to open and she becomes contrite.

Late that night Mytyl and Tyltyl are awakened by a dreadful pounding upon their door. Viewers are just wondering why the film has suddenly changed to color when the door opens and in walks a strange old hump-backed woman in a patchwork cloak. Berryloon is not your typical fairy godmother as she seems to be rather abrupt and demanding, but she is quite effective. She has come to send Mytyl and her brother on a quest for the bluebird of happiness, choosing to make them work for their happiness instead of merely waving their troubles away with her wand. This is the just the first of several excellent messages sent out by this film.

She does not send them out alone though. She transforms the family pets, Filo and Claudette, into human form to act as their guardians. The casting for this was very well done and these actors can make you believe that they really were a loyal bulldog and a self-interested black feline just moments before! Berryloon also calls for another fairy-type to act as their guide. Light is summoned out of a nearby lantern to perform this duty and she seems like a benevolent angel in her glowing white gown and long blonde hair.

Claudette immediately begins trying to think of ways to sabotage their plans and stay human, but ever loyal Filo refuses to be her accomplice. All of her feline plans never seem to work, although they certainly do endanger the children and the success of their quest. Dog-lovers might say, "Isn't that just like a cat?!", but even cat lovers must admit that while unlikiable, Claudette as a human is still very feline!

Mytyl and Tyltyl must search everywhere and Light leads them to the from place to place with gentle reminders and warnings. They begin looking in the Past where they find their grandparents ready to help them. Here, they learn that those we love are never gone as long as we remember them, but they do not find the bluebird.

They look next in the Land of Luxury where Mr. and Mrs. Luxury are quite taken with the beautiful children. Mytyl and Tyltyl are soon so caught up in all the material pleasures lavished on them that not only have they become even more obnoxiously spoiled and selfish, but they forgot to even look for the bluebird! A nicely done reminder that it is easy to be distracted by the lure of material objects, but such trivial things can ensnare you in a stagnant, oblivious trance.

The children look last in Heaven itself, surely the best place to find such a marvelous bird. Here they meet all the children who have not yet been born, including their own little sister! Some of the most interesting notions are presented here. Two of tomorrow's children do not wish to be born because they love each other and will be hopelessly separated. We see their tearful goodbye when one is summoned to be born that very day. Perhaps the most fascinating thought suggested in these scenes is that all of these children show the enthusiasm and playfulness of children and yet somehow show all the adult personality they will grow into during their mortal lives. Truly, a most interesting portrayal of humanity's immortal souls! Here is where our heroes learn to love and appreciate life in all its many facets because it is a miraculous and ever flowing treasure.

They awake the following morning wondering if it really was all a dream, but much wiser and happier none-the-less. Mytyl believes that Berryloon really did send them on this quest and while she has opened her eyes as well as her heart, she is still sorry that she could not find the Bluebird of Happiness. Wait! Look at the cage where she put the blackbird snared yesterday in the forest! There is the bluebird and finally Mytyl understands that true happiness was always right there in front of her just waiting to be recognized.

This imaginative, beautiful journey produced by Darryl Zanuck and directed by Walter Lang is a treat for heart, mind, soul, and senses. Fans of classic films may also recognize Nigel Bruce as the entertaining Mr. Luxury. However, in just 83 minutes everyone will see an amazing portrayal by Shirley Temple that could not be fully appreciated by her Depression era fans. No matter what age she was, she was always an amazingly talented actress who gave her best to the audience. I would place it in the 'suitable for children 4-8' category although it still appeals to this child of over 30. If you have never seen this film, what are you waiting for?! It is available through Fox on video at a very affordable price, and waiting to find a special place in your heart.


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More Blue Bird reviews
review by . March 30, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
THE BLUE BIRD was Twentieth Century-Fox's answer to MGM's THE WIZARD OF OZ. Shirley Temple was originally mentioned for the role of Dorothy in OZ, though Fox was leary about releasing her from her contract.    Based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck, the story recounts one sad and angry little girl, Mytyl (Shirley Temple) who journeys with her brother Tyltyl (Johnny Russell) to find the 'bluebird of happiness'. Joining the children on the quest are the children's pets - cat …
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Quinn Blackburn ()
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Hello, my name is Quinn. :o) I also answer to Mom, YaYa, and occasionally Entwife. I enjoy Beauty wherever I find it... Nature, Music, Art in all its forms... I believe these to be true and sacred things … more
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About this movie


Shirley Temple stars in this fairy tale about imaginary lands and the true values of kindness and happiness. The journey begins when Mytyl (Temple) captures a unique bird in the royal forest, then refuses to pass it on to her bedridden best friend. That night, Mytyl is visited in a dream by a fairy who sends her and her brother, Tytyl (John Russell), on a quest for the bluebird of happiness. Accompanied by their pet dog and cat, Mytyl and Tytyl set out on an adventure into the past, the future, and the Land of Luxury--only to find the bluebird in a most unexpected place. Much like THE WIZARD OF OZ, which was released the previous year, THE BLUE BIRD begins with a black-and-white prologue, then switches to lavish Technicolor when the children enter fantastic lands, a transformation that highlights the film's dazzlingly magical soul.
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Director: Walter Lang
Genre: Classics
Release Date: 1940
MPAA Rating: G
DVD Release Date: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (March 27, 2007)
Runtime: 1hr 23min
Studio: 20th Century Fox
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