Film review: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), directed by Mel Stuart
tl;dr: Classic musical about creepy chocolatier.
Based on the Roald Dahl novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which I read several times growing up, this colourful adaptation is a musical extravaganza.
Famously secretive candy maker Willy Wonka (the inimitable Gene Wilder) is offering a unique experience to five lucky winners – find a golden ticket in one of his Wonka chocolate bars and you get to come to his chocolate factory for an exclusive tour.
The world goes mad trying to find the tickets, and one who wishes he could afford the luxury of a chocolate bar at all, let alone a factory tour, is little Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum). He lives with his parents and four elderly grandparents in a shack, and they struggle to get by. Of course, the fifth and final golden ticket just happens to be found by Charlie, bought thanks to a coin he found on the street.
The other winners are perhaps less deserving of the experience, shall we say? There’s the glutton Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), the TV addict Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen), constantly gum-chewing chav Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson) and rich brat Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), who had her rich daddy buy up boxes and boxes of chocolate bars and setting his factory workers on finding her the ticket. The kids all bring a parent, except for Charlie, who brings Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) along instead.
And what a marvellous place the Wonka chocolate factory is! Rivers of chocolate, edible landscapes, ingenious inventions, and one by one, the children are picked off, because Wonka is perhaps not quite as wonderful as he might seem at first glance.
Which is one of the reasons for loving this film. Or if not the film, at least Gene Wilder. He brings Wonka to a whole new level of creepy, in a different way to that of Johnny Depp in the more recent adaptation. This Wonka is not just intense, he’s sinister. Don’t let those intensely blue eyes fool you! Oh, and he’s even become an internet meme.
The music, aside from the little ditties by the Oompa Loompas, are not really my cup of tea, but then I normally tend to want to skip musical numbers in films.
Don’t really know why the film seems to be set somewhere in America, considering Roald Dahl was Britain-based, but it doesn’t really matter. Veruca is still a spoiled brat who gets everything she can point at, Mike still wants to be on TV and Violet still won’t stop chewing gum.
If you’re looking for a weird but wonderful film, look for this one. Just don’t show it to kids too young, because the trippy and horrifying boat sequence will probably scare the willies out of them.
3.5 out of 5 golden tickets.
(Update 2021: We caught the glass lift scene a while back, and thought it was odd that an English village not only had cars driving on the wrong (or right 😏) side of the road and the architecture of the houses below looked remarkably German. Turns out the whole thing was filmed somewhere in Bavaria! We actually had the pleasure of visiting Bavaria some four months after this review was published. Lovely part of the world.)