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Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 February 2007

Image Based on the acclaimed novel by Roald Dahl, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is now a standard for kids’ movies, partly for the imagery and simple, good-hearted story with values, and partly because of the endearing way Gene Wilder portrayed the title character. (Dahl wrote the script.) The set-up is great for kids. The mysterious Willy Wonka, master candy-maker, has been gone from the public eye for years. Before he closed his factory and stopped allowing the public in, people used to stop by to see how he made all his wonderful candies. Except that there was a very evil man named Mr. Slugworth (Gunter Meisner) who tried to steal Willy’s recipes. As a result, Willy Wonka got to the point that he didn’t trust anyone.

He withdrew from the public eye, but his company continued to produce wonderful products. Now, , Willy Wonka is once again going to open the doors to his marvelous factory. But only to five very lucky people. Introducing his new chocolate bar, Willy has hidden five golden tickets that will enable the possessor to take a tour of his factory and get a lifetime supply of chocolate.

The story has a solid beginning that hooks younger viewers as well as their parents. Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) is a small boy whose life is hard, instantly winning over the audience that seems to crave boys that are orphan, or partially orphaned as Charlie is. While the other kids escape school and dash immediately to the candy store, where they’re entertained by a shopkeeper who seems content to just give candy away and break into song, Charlie has to peer through the windows. He obviously doesn’t have the money it takes to purchase even one sucker.

Charlie goes to pick up the papers that he delivers every day, as well as his pay. At the end of his day, he goes home to his mother (Diana Sowie), grandparents and uncle. Charlie is appalled at the cabbage water they’re eating again, and shows off the loaf of bread he bought. All of them are excited. Charlie’s father is dead, and his grandparents and uncle are bedridden, as they have been for the last twenty years. No explanation is given for them being bedridden, but it’s obvious that the four old people are a drain on the family’s budget. Charlie has saved a bit of his money and gives it to Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) for his tobacco. (Two immediate faux pas for the present generation of kids, with all the information they have, would be the lack of explanation for why everyone is bedridden, and then the fact that Charlie would help his grandfather support his smoking habit, which everyone knows harms a person’s health. But in 1971, those questions would never have come up in young viewers’ minds.)

Once news of the five golden tickets in Wonka bars gets out, people everywhere begin buying them up. Charlie wants desperately to do so, too, but he doesn’t have enough money to buy one Wonka bar, let alone enough of them to possibly have any hope of getting one of those tickets.

Slowly, around the world, the golden tickets are gradually revealed. Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner) finds the first one, quickly followed by Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson), Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), and Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen). There’s even a scare about the fifth ticket being found before it’s revealed that the claimant counterfeited one.

The amazing thing is that all this goes by quickly, while Charlie’s character is built up as well as that of Grandpa Joe. The love between the two of them is obvious, but kids today might wonder why Charlie didn’t take his mother. After all, she was working to keep food on the table for all of them.

Charlie does pick Grandpa Joe, though, and they’re off to see Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Willy Wonka limps onto center stage, leaning heavily on a cane, then does an unexpected roll and springs to his feet, delighting the audience. Gene Wilder’s love for this role, demonstrating the zany behavior that became his stock in trade in later comedic efforts, is apparent here. So are the purple suit and top hat, items that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp kept for their version of the movie. By the time Willy puts in an appearance, the movie is nearly halfway over.

Each of the other four children show their true natures and are carted off to be dealt with. The scenes between Grandpa Joe and Charlie are classic, good fun that warms the hearts of the audience.

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s take on the character is much darker. Although the story that they told is virtually unchanged, Burton and Depp added a lot of background characterization that put a whole new slant on Willy Wonka that some people didn’t care for. Still, the story of the fabulous and intelligent candy-making recluse and the young boy who won him over is an excellent story that’s simple and direct.

Although the movie and the values are somewhat dated, it’s the audio and video presentation that markedly show the difference time has on film. The video portion isn’t too bad, but the colors seem off and the images are a tad bit too soft. The movie still remains a colorful picture, but it lacks when compared to the sharpness and clarity of other HD DVD movies.

The audio portion fares even worse. Even though it has great music, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” suffers from being released on HD DVD in only a step or two above stereo. The sound remains pretty flat and insipid throughout the film.

The special features are almost non-existent, but after 35 years it would be hard rounding up many people who could actually remember being in the movie.

“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is still a good, solid kids’ film. It’s worth watching on a family night, or as a comparison to how Johnny Depp and Tim Burton did their version, which retained the title of Roald Dahl’s book, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” However, if you already have Wilder’s movie on DVD, there’s no reason to pick up the HD DVD version unless you just want to keep all your movies in the same format.

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