The Blue Bird (1940)

blue bird poster 1940 movie shirley temple
6.0 Overall Score
Story: 5/10
Acting: 6/10
Visuals: 8/10

Some interesting visuals

Wizard of Oz rip-off

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Blue Bird

Studio:  20th Century Fox

Genre(s):  Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Family

Release Date(s):  January 15, 1940

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

blue bird shirley temple jessie ralph cast

Are you the Blue Fairy? Are you the Glinda the Good Witch? Then what good are you?!?!

Mytyl (Shirley Temple) is a spoiled (but poor) daughter of a woodcutter.  When she and her brother Tyltyl (Johnny Russell) are visited by a fairy named Berylune (Jessie Ralph), they learn that they must seek out the Blue Bird of Happiness.  With Mytyl and Tyltyl with their transformed cat Tylette (Gale Sondergaard) and their transformed dog Tylo (Eddie Collins) find themselves travelling magical lands for the Blue Bird.  Can Mytyl and Tyltyl find the Blue Bird before the morning sun rises?

Directed by Walter Lang, The Blue Bird is a family fantasy adventure.  The film is a loose adaptation of the Maurice Maeterlinck play The Blue Bird which was first performed in 1908 in Moscow.  The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects.

blue bird cat dog tylo tylette gale sondergaard eddie collins

Tylette might be evil…but Tylo is annoying

I can remember watching The Blue Bird with my sister when Shirley Temple movies regularly ran on weekend mornings.  I mostly remember it because compared to some of the other movies, the film was really odd.  It was a strange story, and a strange role for Temple.  It makes a little more sense now in context, but it still is a bit of an oddity.

The movie was originally meant to compete with the success of The Wizard of Oz though it was a preexisting story.  While The Wizard of Oz feels like a rather cohesive story, The Blue Bird is all over the place.  The characters of the story just bounce from mini-sequence to mini-sequence.  The quest for the blue bird is vague and the outcome of the whole journey is rather frustrating.

Shirley Temple is a bit too rosy for the role especially since she’s supposed to be a brat at the beginning of the film.  She is supposed to be jealous and yet still entitled.  It just doesn’t work for her.  She has a nice supporting cast, but the devious cat-turned-human Gale Sondergaard is a scene stealer (though she is intentionally overplayed in her cat-traits).

blue bird shirley temple

The Blue Bird was here all along…what a waste of a good night’s sleep

The movie is very visual and in a lot of ways disturbing.  Like The Wizard of Oz the film lacks color at the beginning (The Wizard of Oz was shot in sepia, but this film uses black-and-white), but the movie comes to life in the dreams of Mytyl and Tyltyl.  The sets are big and grand and some of the stylized shooting of the period really aids the look.  The basic idea of the dead being dead until they are remembered and the land of the unborn children are just creepy visuals in general.

The Blue Bird is a fun movie in its strangeness.  It has all the pieces of a big and bold fantasy but seems to miss the target.  It mostly feels like it tries too hard to be something that it isn’t.  If The Blue Bird had come out before The Wizard of Oz, it might have been a success, but it feels like a pale copy of the classic film…an expensive knock-off.  Go find catch another bird.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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