Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)
Article 3074 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-7-2009
Posting Date: 1-13-2009
Directed by Mel Stuart
Featuring Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum
Country: USA
What it is: Live-action children’s musical fantasy

A poor young boy desires more than anything to get a golden ticket to visit the Willy Wonka candy factory, which is a mysterious, perpetually-locked and forbidding place. When he does manage to acquire a ticket, he finds himself being tested for his honesty and goodness of heart.

I’ve not read the book by Roald Dahl, but my wife has, and she tells me that the movie doesn’t really capture the spirit of the book. Dahl himself was unhappy with this adaptation of his work (though he is credited as the writer, his screenplay was extensively rewritten) and refused the filmmakers permission to produce the sequel. I do smell the air of compromise here, and the movie does make me want to seek out the original book to get a sense of what it’s really like. Nevertheless, despite a few caveats with this production (I found only two of the songs memorable and only one pleasantly so, and the parts where the movie is obvious stand out noticeably when surrounded by the unpredictability of the rest of the movie), I discovered that I really like the movie and can understand its strong cult following. The first half is an often hilarious satire of ballyhoo, with the out-of-control media coverage of what is essentially a fluff story even more relevant today than in its time; this is definitely something that it’s easier to appreciate when you’re an adult. The second half is anchored by a brilliant performance by Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, who manages to achieve his acting goal of making his character utterly unpredictable while still managing to have a clearly defined character; his half-hearted calls of admonishment to the children who break his rules show us that he is slyly aware of and even eager to see their comeuppance. Several other great actors were considered for this role, but Wilder’s performance makes me glad he was the final choice. I also like the touches of Lewis Carroll and Dr. Seuss that pop up, and I always wonder if the tunnel sequence was influenced a little by a similar sequence in 2OO1: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Quite frankly, this movie seems to improve with time, though I do still hope to read the original book.

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