CRESTVIEW — To quote the song lyrics, “It’s uncategorical, a fuel-burning oracle, a fantasmagorical machine.” It flies. It floats. And, as Walker Elementary School third graders now know, it all started with a real car.
The car is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and recently, at the invitation of third-grade teacher Teri Boxberger, I paid a visit to Walker to share my knowledge of — and experiences with — one of filmdom’s most famous automobiles.
Boxberger’s class was already a step ahead of the other third graders. They were midway through the Ian Fleming novel. Yes, that Ian Fleming, creator of super secret agent James Bond.
During nursing home confinement in 1963 following his second heart attack, Fleming decided to write a children’s story for his young son Caspar. He based it on a racing car built in 1920 by Count Louis Zborowski.
Boxberger said her kids loved the book.
“We’re reading ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ because it has action and adventure, along with magic and a great plot with bad guys, all the qualities of great fiction!” she said.
They’re planning to watch the 1969 United Artists movie next week. The fact that the film has a completely different plot from the book isn’t so bad, I explained. It’s like a two-fer, I told them: two stories from one title.
The film, like the book, opens with the back story about the real Chitty, which was called just Chitty Bang Bang. The count would build three more Chittys. The kids learned how an exciting story about four real cars could lead to an adventure book, which became a film, and then a stage musical.
Now, however, it’s the book that’s caught their imaginations, Boxberger said. Her students have been keeping Chitty Chitty Bang Bang diaries, drawing pictures of the car and her adventures, and writing down their impressions of the story as it unfolds.
“The most exciting part is when they get to the skeleton dangling on the car,” Vincent Cipriano said, of a key scene when Chitty is driving through a cave used by gangsters as their hideout.
“My favorite part is when the buttons started turning red and it said, ‘Pull,’” Joseph Frazier said. “Mr. Pott kept refusing and then it said ‘Pull Idiot.’ That was funny.”
After comparing photos of the original four Chitties to photos of the film car, Alexis Privitera observed, “The car in the movie has wings but the one that’s real doesn’t.”
The kids, who are studying the Civil Air Patrol’s Aerospace Connections in Education curriculum, described as “slim to none,” to quote Vincent, the chances that the two-ton film Chitty could generate enough lift with its dinky little wings to actually take flight. But the concept, even if helped by Hollywood special effects, caught their imaginations.
“I really like it in the movie when they found out the car is magic and can fly,” Alex Martin said.
I showed them some video of the time my friend Joe and I paid for a half-hour ride passed Mrs. William Shakespeare’s house near Stratford-on-Avon in the real movie Chitty as a birthday surprise for our friend Troy. And the students appreciated that pushing a two-ton car back into its garage is not an easy task.
“To hear from someone who has actually seen and ridden in the real Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and can give us historical knowledge about the car is fun and very motivational for my students,” Boxberger said.
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