Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory

****

Reviewed by: Max Crawford

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
"A few scenes are likely to genuinely terrify younger viewers, but Wonka would be the first to point out that children ought to be terrified now and then."

Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory is so dominated by Gene Wilder's performance in the title role that as a child I used to fast forward through the entire first act of the film. There are some great little vignettes and one fantastic scene set in a sweet shop, but for the most part it's an interminable grey slog establishing protagonist Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) as honest, good-natured and desperately poor, then hitting these facts home again and again and again. Nobody wants to watch Charlie And The Cabbage Factory.

Fortunately, our hero's life gets flipped, turned upside-down as he and four other children win the prize of a lifetime: a tour round the chocolate factory of the enigmatic Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder), whose mastery of the chocolatiér's art borders on magical. Wonka's attention-grabbing entrance sets the tone for the rest of the film, as the eccentric, otherworldly man-child gleefully steals every scene and effortlessly draws the viewer into his world of everlasting gobstoppers and Oompa-Loompas, of Hornswogglers, and Snozzwangers, and rotten, Vermicious Knids.

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There's a dark, sinister edge to Wonka that balances out the otherwise saccharine tone of the film. The plot is a fairly straightforward morality tale (four children, each exemplifying a particular vice, are punished, the remaining virtuous child is rewarded, everyone lives happily ever after, for a given value of "happily"), but the main figure of moral authority is a whimsical fantasist who eschews reality in favour of imagination and believes that only children are to be trusted. At one point, asked an impertinent question by the obnoxious Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), Wonka grabs her by the face, looks her in the eye and responds: "We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams". A few scenes are likely to genuinely terrify younger viewers, but Wonka would be the first to point out that children ought to be terrified now and then.

Reports vary on how Roald Dahl, author of both the screenplay and the novel on which the film is based, felt about the finished version, with some suggesting that he loathed it so intensely that he refused to watch it. Regardless, it's far superior to the Tim Burton version with Johnny Depp in the lead role, despite the extraordinary production values of the latter. An enjoyable film for all ages (early scenes aside), Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory may be fantastic and nonsensical, but as the man himself puts it, a little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.

Reviewed on: 10 Aug 2012
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A little boy wins a golden ticket to visit the secret workings of a chocolate factory.
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Director: Mel Stuart

Writer: Roald Dahl, David Seltzer

Starring: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum, Roy Kinnear, Julie Dawn Cole, Leonard Stone, Denise Nickerson, Nora Denney, Paris Themmen, Ursula Reit, Michael Bollner, Diana Sowle, Aubrey Woods, David Battley, G√ľnter Meisner

Year: 1971

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US


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