When Darryl F. Zanuck's arrangement to loan Shirley Temple to MGM as star of The Wizard of Oz fell through, Zanuck hastily assembled a lavish Technicolor vehicle for his diminutive star which, he hoped, would match Wizard in popularity and appeal. The result was The Blue Bird, adapted from the allegorical stage play by Maurice Maeterlinck (previously filmed by director Maurice Tourneur in 1918). In emulation of The Wizard of Oz, The Blue Bird was bookended with black-and-white sequences, reserving Technicolor for the fantasy "body" of the film; similarly, Gale Sondergaard, who had been the first choice to play the Wicked Witch of the West in Wizard, was cast as Blue Bird's nominal villainess. Set in mid-Europe sometime in the late 18th century, the story concerns Mytyl (Temple and Tyltyl (John Russell), the children of a woodchopper (Russell Hicks) who has been called to fight in a faraway war. Heartbroken, the kids decide to run away from home in search of the Bluebird of Happiness, which will ostensibly solve all their problems. Falling asleep, Mytyl and Tyltyl dream that the good fairy Berylune (Jessie Berylune) is leading them on that search, accompanied by their household pets Tylo (a dog) and Tylette (a cat), who have assumed human form (and as such are repectively played by Eddie Collins and the aforementioned Gale Sondergaard). Before arriving at the far-from-unexpected realization that the elusive Bluebird of Happiness is no further than their own backyard, the two kiddies undergo a variety of astonishing experiences, including a raging forest fire (a triumph of 20th Century-Fox special-effects master Fred Sersen) and an oddly unsettling visit to "The Land of the Unborn". Rather heavy going for its intended family audience, The Blue Bird proved to be Shirley Temple's biggest flop, and a subsequent 1976 US-Soviet version starring Elizabeth Taylor fared no better at the box office.
by Hal Erickson synopsis