Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)

DVD Cover (Warner Brother 40th Anniversary Edition)
Movie Connections:
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
> Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)
> Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (2005)
Mel Stuart Mel Stuart
Gene Wilder Gene Wilder
Jack Albertson Jack Albertson
Peter Ostrum Peter Ostrum
Roy Kinnear Roy Kinnear
Julie Dawn Cole Julie Dawn Cole

7.8 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Genres / Traits: Children's / Family, Children's Fantasy, Coming-Of-Age, Family-Oriented Adventure, Musical, Musical Fantasy, Food
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Review by Crispy
Added: August 31, 2016
A couple days ago, 2016 claimed another victim: the beloved Gene Wilder. As a small tribute, I figured I'd finally add perhaps his most famous work to the site, the magical Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

There sure is something unusual about Wonka's chocolate factory. Once upon a time, they kicked out the most amazing chocolate bars; they were unquestionably the cream of the crop. Naturally, his competition wanted to know his secrets and sent in spies to get hired by Mr. Wonka and steal the recipes. Before long, Wonka had had enough and shut the factory down. For three long years it sat dormant, until one day it unceremoniously resumed operation. It's a complete mystery as the gates remain locked and employees are never seen coming and going. Nevertheless, they're kicking out their delicious treats again, so nobody gives it much thought. Among those that love these chocolate bars is kind-hearted Charlie Buckit. Unfortunately, he's also dirt-poor and routinely spends his meager earnings on food for his mother and four bed-ridden grandparents, despite their protests. Fortunately, their luck is changing! Willy Wonka has announced that five lucky children will be given a tour of the factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate if they find a Golden Ticket packaged in with his candy bars. Naturally, we wouldn't have a movie if Charlie didn't get his hands on one of those tickets.

Typically, before viewing a film adaptation of a novel, I like to read the source material first. Given the unfortunate manner that persuaded me to write this, that obviously wasn't in the cards, but even though it's been years since I've read the story, I seem to remember it matching up well. Of course, your average Dahl novel isn't long enough to provide a feature length film, so there were some additions made. A sizable portion of which consists of random people reacting to the Wonka Mania during the Golden Ticket search. There's a man who gets into an argument with a computer that's supposed to locate the remaining bars. There's a woman who needs a chance to think things over when her husband's kidnapper demands her candy bars or his life. There's a scene where the Queen of England buys a case at auction. As you'd imagine, they feel like the padding that they so obviously are. They've also added a subplot involving the rival candy maker, Slugworth, trying to bribe the kids to stealing some of Wonka's secrets. I'll admit I kind of liked that one, but Roald Dahl himself was absolutely infuriated by it. Finally, they were able to stack a few more minutes to the running time by making it a musical. With the exception of "Pure Imagination" and "Oompa Loompa", none of the songs are very memorable, but they're not bad either. The cheese in "The Candy Man" probably could have been dialed down a bit though.

Now, I know I made it sound like a stretched out pad-fest, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Yeah, there were a lot of random scenes while Wonka Mania is sweeping the globe that didn't serve a purpose, but the true meat of the story is Charlie Buckit. Considering he doesn't have a dime to his name, he can't exactly buy five bars a day searching for tickets, but the few bars he does get his hands on is gladly shared with his family. You see, the early story is about building Charlie up as a loving, family-oriented kid, enjoying an especially close relationship with his Grandpa Joe. It's this build that lets him stick out like sore thumb when he meets the other four winners at the factory gates, a nasty collection of spoiled brats if ever there was one. And once we get into that factory: oh boy, I was a kid again! Chocolate rivers, doors that lead to more than one place, oompa loompas working diligently in the background, and the enigmatic Willy Wonka himself guiding us through his fantastic, nonsensical factory. There was a lot of love put into this movie, and I'm sure it's in no small part due to director Mel Stuart making the movie for his daughter, who was a fan of the book.

I don't want to sound like I'm waxing poetic over Gene Wilder's passing, but the man was amazing here as the titular character. When he took the role, he demanded his introductory scene consist of him hobbling out with a cane before stumbling forward into a graceful somersault and leaping to his feet. Much as he planned, the character takes on an undeniable mystique afterwards and you can't shake the feeling that there's so much more to him than meets the eye. His eclectic nature drives this even further home. Maybe he'll answer a question with a dismissive quip, maybe he'll quote some Shakespeare, or maybe there's a deeper meaning in his cryptic replies. Wilder's trademark gentle delivery served this direction beautifully. In his first and only role, the twelve-year-old Peter Ostrum was given the nod for Charlie. While he wasn't bad per se, he was, well, a twelve year old, so there were some very real limitations. Like I said though, the pre-factory scenes of the Ticket hunt were very well shot, so he didn't exactly ruin anything either. It also doesn't hurt that his scenes were backed up by Jack Albertson. As Grandpa Joe, his cooky old-man not only provided some cover-up for Ostrum, but was a ball in his own right.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is well deserving of its classic status, and Gene Wilder was a huge part of that. I'm sure it goes without saying, but this comes highly recommended. 9/10.

Rest in Peace: Gene Wilder (06/11/1933 - 08/29/2016)
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