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Warner / 1971 / 100 Minutes / Rated PG / Street Date: October 18, 2011
When I was a kid, there were three movies I wished I could have starred in: The Bad News Bears, Bugsy Malone and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I wanted to star in Bad News Bears because I'd get to play catch with Walter Matthau and maybe he'd offer me a beer. I wanted to star in Bugsy Malone because I'd get to hold a gun and wear a tuxedo. And I wanted to star in Willy Wonka because I'd get to live in a world of pure imagination...and eat nothing but chocolate.
Even now, watching Warner Home Video's Blu-ray Disc release of the film recalls an age when your parents were gods and although youth was a time of limitless energy and possibilities, in one of life's great ironies, you were too young to realize it.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is the delightful, ageless, life-affirming musical based on Roald Dahl's 1964 book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In the film, Gene Wilder plays reclusive, eccentric candy making genius Willy Wonka, who announces he will personally give five lucky people a tour of his factory, show them the secrets to making mouthwatering candy, and give them a lifetime supply of Wonka chocolate. To win a spot on this coveted tour, five Golden Tickets are hidden in the billions of bars of Wonka chocolate sold around the world. The hunt for the Golden Tickets creates a worldwide frenzy, with one TV reporter breathlessly wondering, "How will the spirit of Man hold up under the strain?"
Nobody wants the prize more than young Charlie Bucket, but his family is so poor that buying even one bar of chocolate is a financial strain. All four of his grandparents have been sleeping in the same bed for twenty years and every night they eat cabbage water for dinner. But Charlie is determined to find that ticket, and eventually he does, joining a motley crew of obnoxious fellow winners including the spoiled Veruca Salt, the overweight Augustus Gloop, the gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde and gun-loving, TV-watching Mike Teevee.
Once inside the factory, Wonka takes the five winners (each accompanied by a family member) on their tour, where every turn brings a new edible, drinkable, lickable delight. The Chocolate Room alone will inhabit the dreams of every kid...and most adults. But sometimes being a child means learning a lesson in how to be an adult and when each kid's honesty and character are tested, Wonka is not so sympathetic. By the end, Wonka's hidden agenda becomes clear. And for one child, it's better than anything he could hope to imagine.
Willy Wonka is a visual and aural delight. The songs, by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, are some of the best musical representation of what it is to be a child: Songs like "Pure Imagination", "Candy Man" and "I Want it Now", are worthy of any Broadway show. Harper Goff's design of the Wonka factory is a colorful, creative masterpiece of surreal images (remember Wonka's office, where everything is cut in half?) and invention, including factory rooms full of burping, churning machinery.
However, the film is galvanized by the performance of Gene Wilder. As the mysterious Willy Wonka, Wilder never plays it saccharine. Wonka's sinister streak is real, but far from sadistic and it's this fine line that makes Wonka and the movie deeper and longer-lasting than just another "kiddie film." For the one thing Dahl, Wilder and director Mel Stuart know is that although the blue skies of youth must give way to the darker realities of adulthood, life should always be as good as an Everlasting Gobstopper.