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Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/20/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/19/2009

The word "classic" is thrown around way too much these days. Terms such as "instant classic" or "modern-day classic", are quickly dispensed and time is rarely good to the items onto which this moniker is bestowed. Official definition aside, to most people "classic" refers to something which is older and has stood the test of time. To that end, I rarely review true "classics" here, as I'm often focusing on the latest theatrical releases on DVD and Blu-ray Disc. However, an oldie but a goodie does occasionally sneak in, such as today's entry, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is set in a world like ours, but here, Wonka Bars are the most popular candy in the world. Children scurry from school to the candy shop to buy the latest Wonka creation -- well, everyone save for Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum). Charlie's family is very poor. His mother works non-stop doing laundry for others, and Charlie lives with this four bed-ridden grandparents. Despite this, Charlie and his family can't help but get caught up in the excitement when it is announced that five golden tickets have been placed inside of Wonka Bars and that the five winners will get to tour the Wonka factory and meet the reclusive Willy Wonka. Charlie gets a bar for his birthday, but it doesn't hold a ticket. Disappointed by this, he watches the news as the five winners are announced. However, on the day that it is revealed that one of the tickets was a forgery, Charlie finds some money in the street, buys a Wonka Bar, and finds a golden ticket! This news coaxes Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) from his bed, and the two go to the Wonka factory. There, they meet the eccentric Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) and the other winners; Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), a glutton; Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), a spoiled brat; Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson), a chewing-gum addict; and Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen), a television junkie. Together, this group enters Wonka's factory to discover another world where everything is edible and magic happens on a daily basis. However, many of the guests will learn important lessons about themselves as well.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is based on the novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, and like most of Dahl's work, this story is full of odd ideas and strange child-adult relationships. Essentially, the movie is one long morality play. Augustus, Mike, Veruca, and Violet, while highly exaggerated characters, each has an issue which can easily plague real-world children. Compounding these problems are parents who don't know how to (and may not care to) discipline and control their kids. Inside the factory, the group meets the Oompa Loompas, a strange race of small orange men (who scared me to death as a child) who love to sing songs about how not doing things in moderation can be dangerous and unhealthy. The only good child in the movie is Charile, but he lives in sub-poverty conditions. But, despite his hard life, Charlie tries to find the joy in everyday life. The story is telling us that Western culture has spoiled our children and made them monsters. This part of the story is as true today as it was back in 1971...actually, it's probably much worse.

But, politics and sociology aside, we're here for fantastic fun and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory certainly delivers in that department. When we look back on the film, sure we remember the bad kids getting their just desserts. (Hey, wait a minute, is the entire film just a joke based on that saying?) But, our fondest memories come from the magic which takes place inside the chocolate factory. Although somewhat dated, the production design in the factory is still very cool and knowing that this pre-dates CGI by some 20 years, we are aware of the fact that a lot of work went into creating Wonka's universe.

The film's center-piece is the performance by Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. This is the model of barely controlled insanity. At first, Wonka seems sort of eccentric and odd, but as the journey continues, we realize that this man is completely out of his mind (and possibly a tad dangerous). However, Wilder rarely raises his voice or appears out of sorts. Wonka is in his element and knows that he is in control. He also becomes a somewhat of a hero in the movie, as he clearly has no time or patience for the bratty children or their mis-guided parents.

Watching Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, I came away noting the same two flaws which always bug me about this movie. Number 1, not all of the songs work. "The Candy Man" feels out of place, and "Cheer Up Charlie" is simply unnecessary. Number 2, the movie takes way too long to get to the factory. While many elements of the first act are faithful to the source novel, this section of the film is too scattershot and works far too hard to show us just how popular Wonka Bars are. I'm sure I'm not the only person who itches to jump to the scene where the kids enter the factory.

Today, it's impossible to not compare Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory with Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. While both movies tell the same story, they do it in different ways. Personally, I prefer Burton's version (and I want it on Blu-ray!), but that doesn't change the fact that Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is truly a classic and it can still be enjoyed by children of all ages today.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory tastes like snozberries on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear for the most part. Some scenes do show some obvious grain, but defects from the source material are kept to a minimum. As one would hope, the colors look great here, and this transfer really shows off the Technicolor process. The reds, greens, and blues look great. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good and the depth is acceptable for a film this old. (The detail unfortunately shows off just how bad some of the visual effects are.) The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. I'm going to be honest here, this may as well have been a basic stereo track. I didn't detect any overt surround or subwoofer effects while watching the film. Having said that the stereo effects are OK and the songs sound very good.

The Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. For starters, the Disc is housed in a book with many color photos. We get an AUDIO COMMENTARY from actors Juile Dawn Cole, Peter Ostrum, Paris Themmen, Michael Bollner, and Denise Nickerson. "Pure Imagination: The Story of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" (30 minutes) is an in-depth making-of featurette which explores the film's production. The piece contains some archive on-set footage, along with interviews with the cast (including Gene Wilder and the kids) and crew. We start with an exploration of how the book became a movie, and then there is a detailed discussion of the film's production and the reaction to the movie. "Vintage 1971 Featurette" (4 minutes) focuses on the creation of the film's sets and props, focusing on Art Director Harper Goff. Next, we have "Sing-Along Songs" (where karaoke-like lyrics appear on-screen) for four songs from the film. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long