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“Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination”, as the lyrics of the theme song state “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is a place of pure imagination which continues to dazzle and charm 40 plus years after its initial release. Interestingly enough when it was first released in movie theatres in 1971 it was only a success with the critics, but not with movie goers. It would be later network airings, home video and DVD sales that would create its cult status among many generations of fans.
Based on Roald Dahl’s much loved childrens book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, the film is not only a musical (great score by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse) and family movie, but also a a delicious black comedy and a cautionary tale with a sinister edge.
When the reclusive but legendary confectioner, Willy Wonka, announces that there are five golden tickets hidden in Wonka chocolate bars, he unleashes a global frenzy of children (and some adults) buying Wonka chocolates in a mad rush to find one of those five golden tickets. The prize consists of a tour of the world famous Wonka factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate.
The five lucky children who find a golden ticket are: Augustus Gloop, a plump German glutton of a boy who’s always stuffing his face. Veruca Salt, a spoiled British, snotty little girl whose parents have failed to teach her the meaning of the word “No!” Violet Beauregard, an obnoxious, gum chewing American girl. Mike Teevee, a gun toting, tv addicted American boy from the Southwest. And then there’s the fifth winner, Charlie Bucket, who lives with his widowed mother and both sets of bedridden grandparents. While the four previously mentioned children have in common over-indulgent parents and ready access to every imaginable, materialistic caprice, Charlie’s family is nearly destitute and a loaf of bread is the equivalent of a banquet for them.
As each child finds a golden ticket, he/she is approached by Slugworth, Wonka’s competitor, a rival who whispers promises into the ear of each child in exchange for a sample of Wonka’s soon to be released Everlasting Gobstopper. An indestructible candy that can be chewed indefinitely without ever losing its flavor.
The sets are not the sophisticated CGI stuff that we see in todays films, but the edible teacups, chocolate tunnel, etc remain undeniably charming. Another of the wonders of the Wonka Factory are the orange- skinned, green-haired Oompa Loompas. They are little people who work in Wonkaland and the sole companions of Willy Wonka, We mostly see them when they break out in song and dance after some nasty disaster has befalls one of the visiting disobedient little monsters. Let’s be honest, one of the sheer delights of this film is watching the insufferable brats get what they deserve! All except Charlie; good, kind, noble, trustworthy Charlie who eventually receives a reward far surpassing his expectations.
However, it’s Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka (his iconic role) that steals every scene. From his first appearance as he limps towards the Wonka Factory gates to welcome the winners until the very end when he callously yells at Grandpa Joe in a foaming at the mouth rage, Wonka keeps us guessing. And that was precisely what Gene Wilder wanted. It was the actor’s idea to have Wonka limping and then pretend to fall because as he explained it make the audience always question if he was lying or not.
And it works! Gene Wilder has never been one of my favorite actors, but his performance is unforgettable as the mad, mysterious but charming Willy Wonka; never creepy…yes, I’m looking at you Messieurs Burton and Depp! His sarcasm, insincere cries for help when the brats get into trouble and hilarious indifference to their ghastly fates never fails to entertain.
To rent on Amazon Instant Video or to own your DVD copy click on one of the corresponding links below.