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Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Starring: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson
Director: Mel Stuart
Rated: G
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: June 1971
Genres: Classic, Kids, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Denise Nickerson, Peter Ostrum, Roy Kinnear, Aubrey Woods, Michael Bollner, Ursula Reit, Leonard Stone, Julie Dawn Cole, Paris Themmen, Dodo Denney

Review by Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, the original feel good film from 1971, is back in a special new DVD edition for its thirtieth anniversary with some great special features. Almost all of the principals, including Gene Wilder, the five "kids," the screenwriter (David Seltzer), the director (Mel Stuart) and the producer (David L. Wolper) drop by to share their thoughts about the making of this beloved film. Some of their stories are absolutely fascinating. My favorite is Seltzer's description of how and why they changed the ending. The kids, now a bunch of middle-age adults, provide the insightful voice-over on the commentary track in addition to participating in a featurette called Pure Imagination about the movie's production. (There is one bit of bad news. The anniversary edition DVD only has a pan and scan version of the movie, no widescreen.)

Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley's many songs, which range from the merely pleasant to the wonderfully memorable, all share one characteristic. The songs alone are enough to make you feel happy. It's a delightful and magical musical.

Based on Roald Dahl's novel, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," the movie could have been a much darker one. Another film based on Dahl's novel JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, is full of creepy moments. However, this film's lovable star, Gene Wilder, as the potentially scary Willy Wonka, turns his character into a real sweetheart with his disarming grin. Willy is full of little aphorisms that don't quite make sense. ("You should never, never doubt what no one's sure about." "We have so much time and so little to do. Strike that! Reverse it!")

The story concerns one Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) who is so poor that his four grandparents, who live with him and have been bedridden for 20 years, must all share the same bed. In this fairy tale, Charlie's big dream is to get one of five golden tickets to enter the fortress factory in which Willy Wonka makes his chocolates. Somewhere in the world are five Wonka bars with the golden tickets. Unlike the rest of his class at school, Charlie can only afford a few bars, not hundreds. But, even so, luck smiles on Charlie, and he gets his big wish.

There are four other kids in the world who find the golden tickets. Julie Dawn Cole as Veruca Salt, the story's biggest brat, delivers the best child performance in the movie. Michael Bollner, as beefy German kid Augustus Gloop, doesn't add much other than his girth. Better than Gloop are Mike Teavee (Paris Themmen) as a television fanatic and Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson) as an obsessive gum chewer. In this sappy but sweet story, the simple message is that kids who don't listen can get into big trouble. Willy tests each of them, and all but Charlie come up lacking.

Harper Goff's magical set for the factory interior looks like a Disneyland ride. In contrast, the exterior looks like an old industrial building from the nineteenth century. Helen Colvig's costumes for the Oompa Loompas, the factory's chocolatiers, make them look rather like the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz. The film's fairly inexpensive special effects are imaginative without the use of any computers. Actually, an old mainframe computer makes a humorous guest appearance. This was back in the simpler times when you could talk back to your computer by punching some combination of its six buttons. But even back then, the computers did not always do what you wanted them to. This movie, on the other hand, does what you want and more. It entertains you from start to finish, leaving you happy and satisfied.

WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY runs 1:40. It is rated G and would be a great choice for all ages.

My son Jeffrey, age 12, gave it ***. He said that he thought was "really good" and "imaginative."

The film is available now on tape and DVD.

Copyright 2001 Steve Rhodes

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