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Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory(1971)
The story of Charlie Bucket, a little boy with no money and a good heart, who dreams wistfully of being able to buy the candy that other children enjoy. Charlie enters into a magical world when he wins one of five "Golden Tickets" to visit the mysterious chocolate factory owned by the eccentric Willy Wonka and run by his capable crew of Oompa-Loompas. Once behind the gates, a cast of characters join Charlie and Grandpa Joe on a journey to discover that a kind heart is a far finer possession than a sweet tooth.
For more about Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and the Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Blu-ray release, see Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 13, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Gene Wilder, Peter Ostrum, Jack Albertson, Roy Kinnear, Julie Dawn Cole, Leonard Stone
Director: Mel Stuart
» See full cast & crew
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Blu-ray Review
"What is this. . .a freak out?" --Violet Beauregarde "So shines a good deed in a weary world." --Willy Wonka
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 13, 2009
Somewhere between those two emblematic quotes above, both culled from the first film version of Roald Dahl's cautionary fairy tale, lies the heart and soul of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. A film that was financed by the Quaker Oats Company (in hopes of a major marketing tie in with a new chocolate bar which quickly fizzled--melted, actually) and was pretty much universally panned on its original release in 1971 has slowly seen its stature grow over the intervening decades to a point where, if not quite its generation's Wizard of Oz, it at least owns the memories of kids of a certain era whose psyches were indelibly imprinted with the sights and sounds of everything from Oompa Loompas to Veruca Salt. Every good fairy tale has at least the hint of menace, some obviously more than a mere hint, and Dahl's own take on childhood petulance and the occasional pure heart may have been too cynical and jaded for an early 1970's world reeling from the epochal events of the preceding decade, especially for a film that was marketed, rightly or wrongly, as a children's movie. Time may not have been kind to Willy from a filmmaking perspective, but its themes and sociological commentaries have never seemed more a propos than they do now.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, for those of you whose memories have not been indelibly imprinted, follows the adventures of youngster Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), a down on his luck kid who at least has a loving, if not wealthy, family to rely on (unlike Dahl's other hapless boy hero, James, of Giant Peach fame). Bucket and his favorite Grandpa, Joe (Jack Albertson), have a special bond, a bond that only deepens when mysterious candy magnate Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) announces that for the first time in history he will open the gothic gates to his factory and allow five lucky golden ticket winners in, with one lucky winner taking home a lifetime supply of chocolate. These golden tickets will be hidden in Wonka chocolate bars, which sets off a mad worldwide rush to find the quintet of figurative needles in a haystack.
Director Mel Stuart stages this opening insanity with a fair amount of whimsy, with sight gags like a Wonka candy bar truck pulling up to the White House to a very funny vignette of a woman mulling over the choice, a la Jack Benny in his famous "your money or your life" bit, of ransoming her kidnapped husband with her box of Wonka bars. (A little shout out to Gloria Manon, the actress who plays the wife uncredited; Gloria is now a respected voice over artist and acting coach in my hometown of Portland, Oregon). Four of the five winning tickets go to a cross cultural assortment of kids who prove that brattiness is not the purview of one solitary nation. We have television addict Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen), rich girl Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), German glutton Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner) and gum chewing annoyance Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson). Each of these kids is shown in their own introductory vignettes to be the sort of kids that could individually or collectively wage a very potent campaign for birth control. And then, of course, against all odds, the fifth ticket is found by Charlie.
The rest of the film then switches focus to Willy, who leads the quintet on a tour, each with a parent (or in Charlie's case, grandparent) along for the crazy ride. What quickly ensues is the apparent demise of four of the five children, each brought to their fate by their own peccadilloes, and not mourned especially heartily by Willy himself. This may have been the aspect to the film that most upset contemporary audiences, perhaps especially parents who weren't used to taking their kids to a supposed "kiddie movie" only to see the young 'un's offed every few minutes. Of course the kids in the audience understood the morality of Willy Wonka on an intuitive level, an understanding that only heightens the expected denouement (after a rather unsettling interlude where all appears to be lost).
There are some magical delights to be had throughout Willy Wonka, if some of them at least bear a certain low budget character. Harper Goff's wonderful production design and art direction fills the frame with a suitably candy-colored array of outlandish inventions and environments. If in this Blu-ray that river of chocolate looks more like, well, dirty brown water, that ultimately doesn't detract from the imagination, pure or otherwise, that Goff's designs frequently offer. The Anthony Newley-Leslie Bricusse songscore is also delightful and was the beginning of their second act together as collaborators after having split up subsequent to their musical theater successes (Stop the World, I Want to Get Off and The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd) to go their separate ways, which led to Bricusse almost singlehandedly killing the film musical with his one, two, three punch as composer-lyricist for Doctor Dolittle, Goodbye, Mr. Chips and Scrooge. And leading the shenanigans is the almost strangely catatonic Gene Wilder, whose underplaying actually ends up being more appealing than the more overtly menacing portrayal Johnny Depp gave in the same role decades later. The children are all wonderful in their own way, and old pro Jack Albertson is fine as Grandpa Joe, if revealing a less than operatic singing voice along the way.
And so if Willy Wonka does occasionally (or even more than occasionally) betray its low budget roots, it really tends to rise above them with a rather appealing Úlan almost all of the time. Stuart may have come from the world of documentary, but he has an unerring eye for good camera placement and musical film conventions, and the result is often as beguiling as at least second string Freed efforts from the mid-1950s at MGM. Taken with just the right amount of childhood wonder, Willy Wonka does prove that there's one big thing that money can't buy, and it's on abundant display throught this film: heart. And that heart, to quote the movie's own tagline, is "scrumdiddlyumptious" indeed.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Blu-ray, Video Quality
There's no getting around it, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has always been a spectacularly ugly film. It was when it was originally released, something that has continued unabated in its successively "upgraded" home video releases. Full of garish colors, with rather odd looking Technicolor (reds verging on oranges a lot of the time), and an almost videotaped look to what may have been very cheap film stock considering the film's rather paltry budget, my sense is there has never been a lot to work with in Willy's source elements. This new Blu-ray release, encoded via VC-1, does offer some spectacular sharpness, a sharpness that is (no pun intended) a two edged sword. The superior clarity makes the weird patterned black and white room Willy first leads his charges into on their tour of the chocolate factory superbly detailed for the first time, for example, with no hint of moire patterns or aliasing. On the other hand some of the opticals look pretty shoddy, notably the close up of Mrs. Teevee behind her newly shrunk son, as well as the closing green screen shots of Willy's magical elevator (the right side of the elevator virtually disappears in the final shot of it floating into the sky). Color is as odd as it has always looked in this film, with flesh tones all over the map (and that's not including the Oompa Loompas), but saturation is quite pleasing in this transfer. This is certainly the best Willy Wonka has ever looked in any home video format, but it's still not very good. A cheap looking film somehow only looks cheaper in 1080p, sadly.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Blu-ray, Audio Quality
I make no bones about loving Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley's song score for Willy Wonka. Who could have foreseen Sammy Davis would have a completely unexpected Top 10 hit with "Candy Man" at a time when his career was pretty much Vegas camp? The rest of the score is similarly imaginative and melodic, and it's therefore a shame that the Dolby True HD 5.1 mix reveals some damage in the mid to low range which is especially egregious in the sung moments. You'll hear something akin to low level distortion in these frequencies, more obvious in "Candy Man" than "Pure Imagination," for example, but noticeable nonetheless throughout the sung segments. I almost wonder if the vocal stems were archived separately from the orchestral, because the orchestral music per se sounds excellent, with the True HD track revealing lots of color I hadn't heard before in Walter Scharf's fun orchestrations. Fun little things like the glockenspiel in the opening credits sequence pop now with a clarity that they simply didn't have in previous home video incarnations. The rest of the 5.1 mix has several fun immersive moments, mostly in the over the top sound effects that accompany Willy's crazy contraptions. Directionality in dialogue is not especially overwhelming, but is subtly present. If you're in the mood for some unusual fun, toggle through the foreign language soundtracks (and there are several). I was surprised to hear that some of them kept the original English language singing, but others had the songs in their respective languages.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
All of the SD extras from the previously released Special Edition are ported over to this Blu-ray, including a nifty 30:25 featurette called Pure Imagination, which features interviews with all of the stars, as well as director Mel Stuart and producer David L. Wolper. There's a pretty rough looking four minute featurette from 1971 focusing on production designer Harper Goff, and a very fun, if occasionally catty, commentary by the "kids" (now grownups, obviously) from the film (their "takedown" of Anthony Newley is especially vicious, if hysterically funny). Rounding out the extras are a Sing Along feature (which strangely omits "Candy Man," the biggest hit from the score) and a very weirdly only occasionally anamorphically squeezed trailer for the film (it plays in 4:3, with the bulk of the trailer looking fine in that aspect ratio, but several sequences look like they should have properly been displayed in 16:9). The Blu-ray itself is housed in a nice DigiBook which contains several great photographs from the film, as well as cast biographies and couple of brief essays on the film's import.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was, by the admission of its own script doctor, a film made largely by amateurs flying by the seat of their pants. That "let's put on a show" ethos is both the strength and occasional downfall of the film. Alternately charming and spooky, with a sort of B- (or, frankly C-) movie ambience, the film is saved by its own abundant heart, something revealed finally in the touching denouement. There's a reason most people prefer this bare bones, cheapo version of Dahl's tale to the no-expense-too-high Tim Burton remake of a few years ago. While this Blu-ray accentuates the flaws of both the image and audio quality of the source elements, it's also a significant step up from the previous DVD release and most fans should be delighted to have it in this new format.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: Other Editions
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Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Willy Wonka Blu-ray Pushed Ahead Two Weeks - August 7, 2009
Warner Home Video has announced that the upcoming Blu-ray digibook release of 'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory' will now be released on October 6th. Originally scheduled for an October 20th release date, no reason was given for the release date bump and ...
• Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory BD Announced - June 23, 2009
As we informed last week, Warner Home Video has announced the Blu-ray release of 'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory' for October 20. As we expected, this will be a DigiBook edition. However, there is no information on whether there will be a lossless audio track ...
• Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory BD in October - June 20, 2009
Warner Home Video has revealed that it will release 'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory' (that is, the 1971 version starring Gene Wilder) on Blu-ray on October 20. No specifics on the edition details have been given, other than it will include a 38-page exclusive ...
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Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Blu-ray, Forum Discussions
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