The Blue Bird has got to be one of the strangest movies I have ever seen. Starring Shirley Temple, the film was released in 1940. My husband happened upon it one late evening, and intrigued by the couple of segments he saw, asked me to watch it with him in its entirety on YouTube. I consented.
The Wizard of Oz had been released the previous year, and trying to cash in on the genre, Twentieth Century Fox released this fantasy. Mytyl (Shirley Temple) and her younger brother Tyltyl (Johnny Russell) live in an idyllic town with their devoted parents, Mummy and Daddy Tyl (Spring Byington and Russell Hicks), a dog and a cat. (Yes, you read the names correctly.)
The experiences Mytyl and her brother have are somewhat like that in A Christmas Carol, sort of visiting the past, present and future. There’s a bit of magic thrown in by a fairy, who looks a lot like the good witch in The Wizard of Oz. She changes their dog and cat into humans. I especially liked their cat Tylette (Gale Sondergaard), as she is as crafty as a human cat should be. The group together looks for the bluebird of happiness.
The kids visit their grandparents in the land of the past, the lap of luxury in a mansion with a couple of spoiled adults, and then end up in danger in the forest where the trees are alive (clever actually, I liked that part). There are a few scenes that seem too scary for kids, with a serious storm underway and the trees attempting to kill them. Scarier than anything on the way to Oz.
Finally, they journey to the future to the most surreal part of the story. They meet children of all ages, waiting to be born and go to earth. A lot of time is spent here talking to a few of the children, who seem to know what will happen to them once they get to earth. Some are scared at their destiny, others thrilled, and a young couple in puppy love despair at ever being able to see each other again.
Mytyl and Tyltyl awaken in the morning from their apparently shared dream experience, with the caged bird they had captured the day before now a bright blue. They have found the bluebird of happiness and Mytyl especially is no longer the ungrateful little girl she started out to be.
Shirley Temple would have been about 12 years old filming this. The setting kind of reminds me of the story Heidi that she starred in just three years earlier. I heard that she was offered the role of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and turned it down. So, quick, make another film! The Blue Bird didn’t do nearly as well as the classic Oz story.
The Blue Bird was actually nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Cinematography and Best Special Effects! If you like Shirley Temple, maybe you’ll appreciate this surrealistic little film.