Wednesday, February 12, 2014

#1,276. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Directed By: Mel Stuart

Starring: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum

Tag line: "It's everybody's non-pollutionary, anti-institutionary, pro-confectionery factory of fun!"

Trivia: The chocolate river was made of real chocolate, water, and cream. It spoiled fairly quickly and left a foul smell

I count myself among those who prefer Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to Tim Burton’s 2005 “reimagining”, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Sure, Burton’s film may have been more faithful to Roald Dahl’s original story, but one thing it didn’t have was Gene Wilder, who in this ‘70s masterpiece delivers a tour-de-force performance as the incredibly odd title character.

Each and every day, young Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) walks past the Wonka Chocolate Factory, which, despite being closed to the public for decades, is still producing delicious candy. According to Charlie’s Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson), the factory’s owner, Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder), grew tired of competitors trying to steal his top-secret recipes. As a result, he fired all of his employees and, to this day, refuses to let anyone inside. 

But that’s about to change. 

In a surprising move, the reclusive Willy Wonka announces he has hidden a golden ticket inside five of his world-famous Wonka chocolate bars, and those lucky enough to find one will be given a grand tour of his facility. 

The first four tickets are found by Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), a portly boy from Germany who loves to eat; American Violet Beauregard (Denise Nickerson), a wise-cracking pre-teen addicted to chewing gum; spoiled brat Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), whose rich father (Roy Kinnear) bought thousands of cases of Wonka bars to secure her a ticket; and Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen), who rarely looks away from his family’s television set. 

After some confusion due to a false claim, the 5th and final ticket is eventually uncovered by none other than Charlie Bucket, who, accompanied by his Grandpa Joe, joins the others as they make history, being the first people allowed inside the Wonka Chocolate factory in many, many years.

And what a magical place it is! 

Featuring everything from a chocolate river to geese that lay candy eggs, the Wonka factory is a veritable wonderland of sweets. What’s more, the entire facility is run by a race of green-skinned, orange-haired little people known as the Oompa-Loompas, who have a knack for breaking into song, making up clever lyrics on the spot. During the tour, some of the kids get into a bit of trouble (at one point, Augustus falls into the chocolate river and is sucked up by an enormous vacuum tube), after which the Oompa-Loompas belt out a tune, each with its own moral. When Veruca, after angrily demanding that Wonka turn over one of his geese that lay chocolate eggs, falls down a garbage chute, the Oompa-Loompas sing:

Who do you blame when your kid is a brat?
Pampered and spoiled like a Siamese cat?
Blaming the kids is a lie and a shame
You know exactly who's to blame…

The mother and the father

Director Mel Stuart and his team did a masterful job bringing Wonka's factory to life, and damn near every sequence features exciting visuals to spark your imagination. Tying it all together, though, is Gene Wilder’s near-perfect turn as the bizarre Willy Wonka, who at times is aloof, not to mention callous when it comes to the safety of his guests. When Veruca falls down the garbage chute, her father asks Wonka where it leads. “The furnace”, Wonka replies, matter-of-factly. Naturally, the distraught Mr. Salt panics, worried that his little girl is about to be burned to a crisp.  No, not necessarily", Wonka reassures him, "she could be stuck just inside the tube”. 

There’s a subtle sarcasm in nearly every line of dialogue Wilder utters, and he occasionally blurs the line between genius and madness, perfectly displayed in the famous Ferryboat sequence (which creeped me out when I was a kid). From the moment he first appears, walking deceptively slow out the factory’s front door, to the movie’s very dramatic finale, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory belongs to Gene Wilder, and he does wonders with it.

Admittedly, there are a few scenes in Burton’s 2005 version that I did enjoy; unlike the ’71 film, we get to see the kids after their unfortunate “accidents” as they leave the factory. But in the end, this most recent take on the story can’t hold a candle to the original. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a classic in every sense of the word.

1 comment:

James Robert Smith said...

The Tim Burton film, like the chocolate river, was foul. The original movie--while not perfect by any means--was much more effective at portraying the atmosphere of a Roald Dahl novel.