Warner Bros. // 1971 // 100 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // October 30th, 2011
Wonka: "Charlie, never forget what happened to the man who suddenly got
everything he ever dreamed about."
Charlie: "What's that?"
Wonka: "He lived happily ever after."
Before the advent of home video, some movies became network staples. Every year, you could count on seeing The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music. In the mid-1970s, another movie broke into the ranks: a curious little film about an eccentric candy maker with a wild production design and an indelible leading performance. It's back as Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (Blu-ray) Ultimate Collector's Edition.
Everything about the movie was off kilter, including its production. The movie was bankrolled by the Quaker Oats company; they were planning on entering the candy bar market, and producer David Wolper convinced them that the movie would provide an excellent tie-in. It probably would have been; however, an error in the recipe for the chocolate resulted in a too-low melting point -- Wonka bars were literally melting on the shelves, and the entire line had to be recalled. The brand was bought by Nestlé in 1988, but the Wonka line was limited to candy, not chocolate. Finally, in 2009, Nestlé launched a premium line of Wonka candy bars. All of which goes to show just how deeply ingrained the name of Willy Wonka has become. It's easy to see why; while it's hardly a perfect movie, it's simply a good movie, with a plot that appeals to young and old alike. People still come up to Gene Wilder about the movie. In one of the extras, he relates a time when, some thirty years after the movie was made, mind you, a mother came up and asked if she could introduce him to her children; Wilder said yes, of course, and the mom brought her kids over and said, "This is Willy Wonka."
It's a testament to Wilder's performance that it manages to overshadow his utterly brilliant work in The Producers and Young Frankenstein. Wilder understood that the only way the movie could work was if no one -- characters and audience alike -- could get a clear read on Wonka. In fact, the little somersault he does during his initial appearance was his idea -- as he said, after that, no one would be able to tell if he was lying or telling the truth.
He walks the line beautifully, in turns warm and charming, sly and mischievous, harsh and cruel.
While Roald Dahl had sole screenwriting credit, David Seltzer did an uncredited rewrite, adding the character of Slugworth, introducing Fizzy Lifting Drinks, and most importantly coming up with the idea that the key to the contest was not just a matter of not screwing up, but rather actively doing something good. The change certainly strengthens the ending -- though it must be said that the Fizzy Lifting Drink sequence itself messes with the movie's momentum. Also, while I've no doubt that Wonka knew exactly what they were doing the entire time, it's hard to believe that the other kids (the remaining ones, at least) didn't notice that Charlie and Grandpa Joe had wandered off. Dahl was not happy with the finished movie because it shifted the focus from Charlie to Wonka. It was this displeasure that prompted the Dahl estate to give Tim Burton the go ahead for his 2005 version. Dahl's reservations aside, the movie remains as charming as ever; my own kids are big fans.
I'm one of those few people who like both this version and Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but deep down, I prefer this one. It's not that the story is better -- the backstory Burton adds to Willy Wonka is sheer genius -- but I just like this version of the Wonka factory, largely because you can see how much love and effort went into bringing the factory to life, whereas Burton's CGI adds a certain sterility to things. Of course, the voyage of the Wonkatania is madness of the highest order.
Technically, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (Blu-ray) Ultimate Collector's Edition is a mixed bag. The opening scene in the candy store looks particularly impressive, not just for the vividly colored candy, but also the more muted colors, such as the store owner's pinstripe shirt, looking so crisp you can almost see the starch in the cuffs. There is no color bleeding, which is quite the accomplishment given the film's intense color palette. To be fair, there are exactly three items (Charlie's red scarf, Veruca's red dress, and Violet's red hat) that always seem on the verge of bleeding, but they never quite do. Audio isn't nearly as impressive; audio in 1970 wasn't that good to begin with; the re-mastered track is clear and bright, but calling this a "surround" track is a bit ridiculous.
All of the extras return from the 2001 special edition. The highlight is the commentary track featuring all of the kids, now all growed up. "Pure Imagination" is a solid retrospective, featuring director Mel Stuart, the grownup kids, writer David Seltzer, and Gene Wilder. A DVD version of the movie is also included, along with an additional DVD with two new features. There's a vintage making-of featurette, notable mainly for some interview footage with Roald Dahl, and for some behind-the-scenes on-set footage. The other, "Mel Stuart's WonkaVision," is a fun little bit with Stuart and his now-grown kids. The two are barely 30 minutes total, and hardly justify the inclusion of an extra disc. Aside from the 2001 documentary, Gene Wilder is conspicuously missing, and some sort of participation on his part, whether in an interview or commentary track, would have been a welcome addition.
The box has some additional extras as well: A 144-page color book by Mel Stuart provides a good look at the history of the film along with some great photos. A tin in the shape of a classic Wonka bar holds four pencils and a chocolate-shaped (and scented) eraser, and there's a reproduction of the golden ticket -- sadly, it's not a perfect replica -- foil-stamped on paper, with text that isn't quite correct. It does, however, have a code for an online giveaway. Finally, there's an envelope with reproductions of some production correspondence. It's a handsome package.
Here's the thing: Warner Bros. released a Digibook Blu-ray edition last year and most hardcore fans probably snapped it up immediately. Here we are, a year later, and Warner is coming out with a handsome (and handsomely priced) anniversary edition? What's here to warrant the upgrade? In terms of disc extras, the two new featurettes add little to the proceedings; the only thing that really makes the set worth considering is the enclosed book. On the other hand, if you don't already own the movie, it's an easy choice.
The court finds Warner Home Video guilty of shockingly poor scheduling. The court can only assume that someone in Warner's scheduling department got confused, as it makes little sense to release the regular Blu-ray a year in advance of this 40th Anniversary edition. You'd think they'd release the box set first. Of course, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory the movie is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (German)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Golden Ticket
* Roald Dahl
* Wonka Candies