October 20, 2009

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I love Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Partly because of nostalgia. It’s shot like a TV movie. Painfully so at times. But the moral play works well enough, and Gene Wilder gives a hell of a performance. On the edge of malice and crazy, he walks it. On that level, I prefer it to Tim Burton’s over-stylized and otherwise empty remake. My Review after the jump.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie image (4).jpgThe film follows Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), the poorer than poor kid who lives with his mother and all his grandparents. The grandparents all sleep in the same bed, that’s how bad off they are. Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) is Charlie’s favorite and the most sympathetic to the boy. Charlie wants more than anything to win a trip into the Willy Wonka factory where chocolate is made, and – be warned – this film is a diabetic’s nightmare. Well, Wonka unleashes five Wonka tickets on the world, five golden tickets to enter his chocolate factory, and soon four children find them. And then Charlie gets the fifth and takes his Grandpa Joe as his guardian. Once they enter the Wonka factory, they enter a wonderland, where the children come to prove moral points about how to behave. It’s a vicious film, and the script came mostly from Road Dahl so it keeps much of the meanness that makes the film have some teeth.

Alas, the film itself is a little stagnant. Until Willy Wonka shows up the film is somewhat of a chore on repeat viewings, though the song “Cheer Up, Charlie” is kind of a camp classic around my household. This is mostly because the direction is a bit flat. But if you enjoy watching spoiled kids get their comeuppance, the film still works like gangbusters. Charlie is a sympathetic enough innocent, and then there’s Gene Wilder. One of the great performers of his era, his amusement and bemusement makes the film work. How he says so nonchalantly “Don’t, please, stop.” Or any other moment of slight reserve makes his character fascinating. He’s the best actor in the piece, and it’s his movie. The film still has the ability to charm, and it’s one of the better kids films of the 1970’s, an era where most of the films of this sort has lost the Disney touch.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie image (1).jpgI don’t like bad mouthing the film it still has a nostalgic place in my heart, but with the onslaught of such excellent Pixar films, the one thing that keeps the film somewhat fresh is its cavalier attitude towards harming characters like Veruca Salt.

Warner Brothers presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1 TrueHD. Extras are a complete repack of the original special edition with a commentary by the kid stars Peter Ostrum, Michael “Augustus Gloop” Bollner, Julia “Veruca Salt” Dawn Cole, Denise “Violet Beauregarde” Nickerson and Paris “Mike Teevee” Themmen. All show up the making of documentary “Pure Imagination” (30 min.) along with director Mel Stuart, Gene Wilder, producer David Wolpner, among others. There’s a vintage featurette (4 min.), a singalong for four of the songs, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

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