Warner Bros. // 1971 // 100 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // October 13th, 1999
It's everybody's non-pollutionary, anti-institutionary, pro-confectionery factory of fun!
Ostensibly for children, this is one of those films that should entertain the kiddies but with enough meaning on higher levels to keep the adults interested as well. It is and will always be a classic film.
It is a rare movie that you see as a child than can be as entertaining (or even more so!) when you see it years later as an adult. That is the prime facet of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, as it is can be a children's movie but without being condescending, pandering, or watered-down, which would tend to alienate the adults in the audience. A secondary facet is Gene Wilder, a vastly underrated acting talent, who was a perfect choice for the title role, as a lesser man would not have had the deft touch to pull it off.
So, who is Willy Wonka and what is his Chocolate Factory?
After a musical and candy-heavy credit sequence, as well as a musical number ("The Candy Man"), we are introduced to Charlie (Peter Ostrum), a bright, earnest, but poor and hungry young boy. He lives with his weary, hard-working mother (Diana Sowle), and his four bed-ridden grandparents, including his favorite, Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson). Money is scarce, and food is tight with so many mouths to feed. The next day, in the middle of Charlie's chemistry class, the whole school is abuzz with the news that the elusive candy maker, Willy Wonka, is going to open his factory to the lucky five people who find a golden ticket hidden in a Wonka candy bar. This is so special because for years and years, his factory has been producing candy but never a person goes in or out, and there are no known employees of his factory.
Charlie wants so desperately to gain admittance, but with his exceedingly modest means, he knows that it is a very faint hope that he would ever achieve this dream. In short order, the first ticket is found in Germany by a bottomless pit of a young boy, Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner). Next, we see that a peanut businessman, Mr. Salt (Roy Kinnear), has been afflicted with a petulant, very, very spoiled brat of a daughter named Veruca (Julie Dawn Cole). Veruca demands that her father furnish her a golden ticket with the single-minded ferocity of a child who is in full control of her parents. A slave to his daughter's wishes, he turns his factory into a full time candy-shucking operation, which after many thousands of candy bars yields one golden ticket.
Scarcely has Veruca been satisfied than the third ticket is found by inveterate gum-chewer Violet Beauregard (Denise Nickerson), whose fast-talking car salesman and politician father (Leonard Stone) couldn't be happier. As more tickets continue to be found, Charlie gets more and more desperate and unhappy, though he tries not to show it. The fourth ticket is found by Mike TeeVee (Paris Themmen), a boy who is glued to his TV virtually around the clock, and whose parents cater to his whims. The worldwide frenzy for Wonka bars continues, leading to some strange behavior, until a Paraguyan TV station reports that a local businessman found the fifth ticket.
Charlie is most dejected, but is lucky enough to find some money in the street. Seizing on his good fortune, he runs to the local candy shop and spends his loot on Wonka chocolate, gorging himself on one bar while buying a second for his Grandpa Joe. Making his way home, he is stunned to learn from a newspaper vendor that the fifth ticket was a fake. He rips open his last Wonka bar, and is deliriously shocked to see the final golden ticket wrapped around the chocolate.
He runs all the way home, escaping the clutches of a Mr. Slugworth (Günter Meisner), a rival of Willy Wonka, who has been trying to make a deal with all the ticket winners to steal the secret of the Everlasting Gobstopper from Wonka's factory. The whole family is happy for Charlie, but none so much as Grandpa Joe, who rises from his bed for the first time in years with the promise to accompany Charlie on his tour of Wonka's factory.
The wonderful day dawns cold and bright, with a festive crowd, including our lucky winners and their family, crowded at the stern iron gates of Wonka's factory. On the dot of 10 a.m., a purple-coated and top-hat wearing Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) invites the winners into his factory, a devilish twinkle in his eye. After some preliminary frippery, he ushers the group into the "nerve center" of his factory, the Chocolate Room. It is a glorious burst of color, with all sorts of trees, plants, and confectionery treats, all made from edible candy, with a fast-flowing chocolate river and waterfall.
After an orgy of candy eating, the orange-faced, green-haired, rhyming Oompa-Loompas are introduced, but before we can marvel too long at them poor plump Augustus Gloop is undone by his own gluttony, and exits the tour. In celebration, the Oompa-Loompas give us a catchy song. Moving onward, the tour boards a boat sailing the chocolate river, but it soon floats into a very strange and somewhat frightening cave, where Wonka's odd singing is all the more disconcerting.
Suddenly, the boat docks and unloads the tour into the Inventing Room, which is filled with a vast array of strange machines and stranger experiments, emitting sounds, smells, and smoke of all sorts. Of particular interest is the Everlasting Gobstopper machine, which, well, what do you think it does? The group then peeks into one of Wonka's most interesting experiments, which produces gum that is a complete three-course meal. Violet Beauregard can't keep her hands off the gum, with berry disastrous results. To the tune of an Oompa-Loompa number, poor Violet is rolled off to the Juicing Room. "It always goes wrong with the desserts," sighs Mr. Wonka. "Always."
Hanging behind during the visit to the Fizzy Lifting Drinks, Charlie and Grandpa Joe sneak a sip. The fun of flying soon becomes dangerous as they float higher and higher, which is solved when they simply does what comes naturally when you drink soda-pop! Rejoining the tour, they find that Mr. Wonka is showing off the geese that lay the golden (chocolate) eggs. The sight of gold, and Mr. Wonka telling her she can't have a goose, drives Veruca into a spoiled tizzy that ends in the educated Eggdicator branding her a bad egg. Bad eggs, naturally, are promptly sent to the incinerator. "Well, I think that furnace is lit only every other day, so they have a sporting chance," says the unconcerned Wonka. The Oompa-Loompas sing and dance in commentary on the willful Veruca, until Wonka loads the tour onto his own Wonkamobile, a bizarre contraption powered by an endless supply of carbonated beverages.
Donning white suits and goggles, the tour then discovers the wonders of Wonkavision, which takes objects and transmits them from studio to television, just as they were before, only smaller. Wonka demonstrates with a chocolate bar, prompting Mike TeeVee to become one with his favorite namesake, except he is rendered a couple of inches high. Mrs. TeeVee departs with her diminutive offspring, to the strains of another silly Oompa-Loompa commentary.
With only one of the children remaining from the group, we finally learn the real purpose of the golden tickets and the tour, and Charlie faces a life that he had never in his wildest dreams could have expected. A wild, wonderful, glorious life for him and his family. The End.
Video is fairly good for a movie with nearly thirty years on the shelf, no doubt partly due to the happy fact that Warner has provided us with an anamorphic transfer. Colors are bright and save for some slight bleed in the opening credits, are very well done for a movie of this age. There are some bits of dirt and other film defects present, but it looks like there was either a well-kept master sitting somewhere or they did some clean-up work, because they are kept well in check. Several scenes are fuzzy and not as sharp as I would like, and the blacks and shadow detail could use some work. On the up side, I was pleasantly surprised not to have noticed any shimmering from digital enhancement, and in a couple of scenes I was just waiting for it, to no avail. (Note to Buena Vista and Fox: this is a good reason to routinely do anamorphic releases, even for bare bones releases.)
Audio has been remastered into a 5.1 mix, which while not breaking any records, probably helped a good deal. There is some directionality in the front soundstage, and the subwoofer will give the music (particularly the Oompa-Loompa songs) a nice solid anchor. As noted, there is some lower frequency use, but the higher frequencies seem to be somewhat attenuated (as expected from an older movie). Dialogue is nice and clear.
Well, it's hard to be too critical about the story and acting, but there were a few points that I figure are worthy of mention. Though the movie seems to suggest in many ways that Charlie (and Willy Wonka) live somewhere in England, this is never made very clear, probably because the look of the town is unmistakably continental (specifically, Germany, where the movie was in fact filmed). Also, aside from the main characters (Willy Wonka, Charlie, and Grandpa Joe), most of the other characters are sketched out in limited fashion, particularly the other generally obnoxious golden ticket winners who are one-dimensional cutouts.
I also found myself thinking that this movie was written in a very different age, as it takes the film nearly 40 minutes (out of a 100-minute running time) to get to the meat of the matter, Willy Wonka and his factory. I bet that if this were a modern movie, we'd be meeting Willy Wonka in the opening credits, and we'd spend most of our time in the factory, making those sequences much longer and draining them of their spark and freshness.
Given the limited nature of most of the roles, you can't expect too much from most of the acting talent. However, Gene Wilder (nominated for an Golden Globe) in the title role carries much of the burden on his back, and carries it off flawlessly. His Willy Wonka is offbeat, charming, and quite witty, always ready with a quip or retort, but with a certain insanity always lurking beneath the surface. Peter Ostrum, as Charlie, is the rare child actor who can display a depth of feeling and emotion without seeming fake or grating on one's nerves, and Jack Albertson is a very human and real person who serves as mentor and cheerleader for Charlie. Another oddity is that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was Peter Ostrum's one and only acting role, as he reportedly became a veterinarian when he grew up.
Extra content is adequate for a catalog title. There are some of the best organized and detailed production notes that I have seen in quite a while, as well as the usual cast and crew bio/filmographies and two widescreen trailers -- the original theatrical trailer and a 25th Anniversary re-release trailer. It comes, unfortunately, in the Warner snapper case.
This is a classic movie, enjoyed by children and adults alike, and is exactly the sort of movie that deserves a collector's edition. It practically cries out for a Where Are They Now featurette, as a search through the listing on the IMDb will tell you that so many of these actors and actresses have done little or no work (certainly that American audiences would have seen) since Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Certainly, this was one of Gene Wilder's most famous roles, and I would have loved to see his comments on this film. Ah well, we can hope.
A classic and endearing tale for adults and children, it seems as timeless today as the first time I saw it. At the reasonable retail price of $25, it belongs on the shelf of every collector or parent.
The film is heartily acquitted, and Warner is fined one case of Wonka Scrumdiddlyumptious chocolate bars for not making this a true collector's edition for this fine tale.
So shines a good deed in a weary world.
Review content copyright © 1999 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Production Notes
* Theatrical Trailers