Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgCome with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination…

So sings Willy Wonka, the mysterious confectioner whose candy factory is shrouded in secrecy. “Nobody ever goes in, and nobody ever comes out”. Then one day the enigmatic maker of the world’s most coveted sweets extends a proclamation. Five lucky individuals will be given a tour of his factory as well as a lifetime supply of chocolate. This will be granted to anyone in the world who happens to find a golden ticket hidden within the package of a Wonka Bar. Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teavee are four children who each receive a winning entry. Charlie Bucket, our upbeat but downtrodden protagonist, wants nothing more than to be number five. The chocolate factory, we learn, is right in Charlie’s hometown. Poor Charlie lives an underprivileged life. He doesn’t have extra change to buy candy bars. Then one day he happens upon a coin lying in the gutter and uses the money to buy a Wonka bar. From that point forward his life will never be the same.

The cast is flawless. A traditional family-oriented adventure would tell a buoyant tale of children thrilled to tour the world’s most famous candy factory. This workshop is different however, and Willy Wonka is no ordinary manufacturer. Gene Wilder should have gotten an Academy Award nomination for his offbeat performance. The titular chocolatier is a master of ceremonies unseen since the likes of PT Barnum. Although his personality is a mixture of a benevolent confidant and a bitter misanthrope out for vengeance. He presides over the tour with a fiendish delight. His candy factory makes tasty sweets but it’s also a bit malevolent. For example a seemingly innocuous boat trip aboard the Wonkatania becomes a terrorizing trip when it passes though a dark tunnel. His helpers, the Oompa Loompas are bizarre little orange-skinned, green-haired men with a singular purpose: to make Wonka’s astounding confections. The five kids are perfectly cast. American boy Peter Ostrum in his only film role, is Charlie Bucket, our sweet and well mannered lead. The same cannot be said for the remaining four. The script has a pessimistic view of children as ill behaved and the characterizations are bewitchingly wicked. Chief among them is Veruca Salt who is a positively unbearable in her demands for anything and everything she sees fit to want.

The freakish atmosphere is punctuated by songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. They, along with Walter Scharf, received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score. When British actress Julie Dawn Cole sings “I Want It Now!” she embodies a girl with unadulterated greed but in a most alluring way. You cannot ignore Veruca Salt. Her father indulges her every whim and her personality is the worse for it. The “Oompa Loompa” chants sung by Willy Wonka’s minions are catchy little ditties that lament the behavior of each of the nasty children. “The Candy Man” would become a #1 hit a year later for Sammy Davis, Jr. when he covered the song. And of course there’s my personal favorite “Pure Imagination” sung in complete sincerity by Gene Wilder.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is based on the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. As is the case with the author’s children’s books, there is a sinister element that is most subversive. It is a recurring theme in his works and this adaptation is no different. The movie was filmed in Munich and this gives the town a puzzling hard-to-place feel before anyone even sets foot in the factory. Five lucky kids get the opportunity to tour Willy Wonka’s wondrous plant but the experience isn’t quite what they were anticipating. The bright colorful production design stirs the imagination with possibilities. There’s a chocolate river, giant edible mushrooms, lickable wallpaper, a Wonkamobile that shoots soap. It’s all rather enchanting. Only the Fizzy Lifting Drinks sequence is a snooze. When the picture was released in 1971 it was a box office disappointment. Despite garnering positive reviews it only earned a mere $4 million in 1971. Over the years, however, the film achieved the status as a cult film and is now widely accepted as an outright classic. It’s easy to see why. I love this movie.

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18 Responses to “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”

  1. I love this film too, with its infectious songs and crazy visuals. I still can’t believe anyone thought it was a good idea to remake such a classic thinking it would even be a patch on the original; save yourself the trouble and screen this instead I say (Johnny Depp still haunts my dreams!). Wonka was one of my favourites as a kid and still is – I would love to see this in a cinema, here’s hoping!

  2. Marvellous film full of magic! Wilder is amazing as Willy Wonka and there shouldn’t be another.

    • This was arguably Gene Wilder’s best performance. He never won an Oscar but he was nominated twice in his career. Once for his supporting role in The Producers and then several years later for co-writing the script for Young Frankenstein with Mel Brooks.

  3. A little bizarre to think that this was all for kids, but it still works. Mostly because of the vision and Wilder’s gonzo performance. Good review.

  4. I love it as well, Gene Wilder not getting even a nomination is. . .I’m going to take it one step beyond ‘criminal’ and say that’s just a plain felony! He’s wonderful!!

    Not to mention all of the other elements here that help push him to a higher level. The surroundings, the songs, the children — all of it works great. One of my favorite movies, in all honesty.

  5. I absolutely love this movie 😀 I recently did a review on it aswell =)

  6. Did you happen to see it on the big screen last week? AMC theaters had it in their Classics Series. Always a pleasant treat.

  7. Willy Wonka is one of my all-time favorite films. I watched the heck out of it when I was a kid for its simpler pleasures, yet I still enjoy it immensely as an adult for its dark, subversive qualities that you talk about in you review. I don’t think I’ve seen it since I became a film critic a few years ago, so it’s probably worth a watch again soon to be viewed with fresh eyes.

  8. Movie is definitely a classic. Very creative and fun. Have seen this many times and never tire of it. 4 1/2 stars.

  9. Nice review. Definitely a childhood classic and one I still have fond memories of. I hate the remake though, that was awful.

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