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'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory' Review: A Fun Film of Pure Imagination

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a 1971 musical film directed by Mel Stuart and stars Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. The movie is based on Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and centers around a poor boy named Charlie Bucket who finds one of the five golden tickets Willy Wonka hides in his chocolate. Charlie joins four other kids who are a lot brattier and more selfish than him in visiting Wonka’s chocolate factory. Charlie also deals with a man who claims to be Arthur Slugworth, Wonka’s rival, who offers all the golden ticket winners a lot of money for Wonka’s Everlasting Gobstopper. Willy Wonka himself is a creative but unusual candy maker.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was not a financial success, only making $4 million with a $3 million budget. Despite that, the movie got great reviews and remains a beloved classic over fifty years later, gaining fans from TV airing and home media. I discovered this movie on TV after watching the 2005 remake Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in theaters. While I enjoyed the 2005 movie, I became a fan of the 1971 original movie. It’s one of those movies I make sure I rewatch once a year.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a colorful, enjoyable movie that never has a dull moment. The humor works so well and holds up years later. With so many funny moments, the movie also has great emotional moments involving Charlie and his family. The musical numbers hit well, from The Candy Man song at the beginning to songs sung by the Oompa-Loopas. The theme of anything is possible and never giving up works so well with poor Charlie Bucket, despite having the least likely odds of getting a golden ticket, not giving up on his dreams, and eventually getting that ticket.

Gene Wilder does a terrific job of portraying Willy Wonka. Wonka is portrayed as a brilliant but crazy candy maker who is looking for someone to take over his chocolate factory and look after his Oompa-Loopas. He seems to not care that much about anyone’s safety and more about his work, like his chocolate river. Wilder’s facial expressions towards his guests and how he delivers his lines are hilarious. Wilder was instructed to go with method acting in some scenes, catching some of the child actors by surprise. For example, all the actors thought Wilder was going crazy during the scene where the boat takes them through a tunnel. Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie, was surprised when Wilder’s Wonka yelled at him and Grandpa Joe. The director chose not to give Ostrum a heads-up so that Wonka’s anger would get a genuine reaction from Ostrum. Wilder wasn’t happy with this decision since he formed a friendship with Ostrum during filming.

Peter Ostrum delivers a great performance as Charlie Bucket. This was Ostrum’s only role and he went on to become a veterinarian. The other kid actors portray their characters well, portraying four bratty kids who refuse to listen to Wonka. Jack Albertson plays Charlie’s Grandpa Joe, who has been bedridden for 20 years until Charlie finds a golden ticket. Grandpa Joe cares for Charlie but sometimes encourages bad behavior. For example, he suggests they try Wonka’s fizzy lifting drinks which causes Wonka to originally disqualify them until Charlie proves his loyalty to Wonka. Grandpa Joe also didn’t care where Charlie got bread from one night.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is well paced with a runtime of one hour and forty minutes. The first half of the movie focuses on the pursuit of the golden tickets and whether Charlie will find one or not. The second half focuses on Charlie, Grandpa Joe, and the other kids and their parents going to Wonka’s chocolate factory. The chocolate factory is well-designed and colorful. The costumes for Willy Wonka and his Oompa-Loopas fit this colorful setting. The only thing I was not impressed with was the chocolate river they created for the movie. They tried mixing water with food coloring, and it seemed to come out as disgusting water.

While Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is beloved by many, one person was not a big fan of the movie and that was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl. The movie had significant changes from the novel that infuriated Dahl. For example, the idea of making someone pretend to be Wonka’s rival Slugworth to test the winners was a decision he strongly disagreed with. Dahl hated the movie so much that he disowned it. Dahl also refused to let Warner Bros adapt his book’s sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

Overall, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a charming, fun movie that people of all ages will enjoy. Gene Wilder does well in portraying Willy Wonka. The other performances are also good and entertaining. It’s a surprise that most of the kid actors in this movie never pursued acting careers. The only one was Julie Dawn Cole, who played Veruca Salt. The chocolate factory is well-designed, as well as the costume designs. The songs and scores work well for this movie.

My final grade for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is an A+. Gene Wilder is iconic as Willy Wonka and the movie continues to leave smiles on the faces of everyone. If you have not seen this classic, I highly recommend you watch it. What are your thoughts on Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory? Let us know in the comments below.

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