Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on Blu-ray Disc

A Dahl’s House?

By Jim Bray

Considered a classic by some, Warner Brothers' Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory suffers from a couple of problems.

First, its picture quality is all over the map, and this is unforgivable in this day and age of digital remastering and high definition.

Second, I don't think I've seen such blatantly preachy moralizing in a movie in years. You can't blame the Blu-ray release for that, of course; it's the fault of the writer and producers.

The story follows Charlie Bucket (or “Bouquet,” as Hyacinthe from “Keeping Up Appearances” would prefer it pronounced), a severely poor yet precocious and honest child who lives with his mother and four bed-ridden grandparents in a life where a loaf of bread is considered a feast.

Wonka’s is a world famous brand of candy, but the Wonka factory has been closed to people coming and going for years and has therefore built up a delicious mystique. Then one day, Wonka’s decides to mount a global promotion that’ll see five lucky winners gain a tour of the mysterious factory as well as a lifetime supply of chocolate. Charlie decides it would be nice to win.

Except for the songs, which seem to slow down the story, the first half  of this movie is really entertaining. It's off the wall and more than a tad bizarre, and that’s fine. And I loved the way Dahl and director Stuart showcase the media feeding frenzy surrounding the Wonka promotion. The media look really stupid and absorbed, almost as if this part of the movie were actually a documentary…

The five winners (naturally, Charlie’s one of them - eventually) run the gamut from spoiled brat to spoiled brat to spoiled brat to spoiled brat to – Charlie! All the other winners are absolutely poisonous personalities and you really hope they get a comeuppance.

But once the lucky winners actually get inside the factory the movie changes gears and becomes a dark and extremely preachy tale of morality, reward and punishment. Each of the contestants meets some kind of horrible fate, we think, and are sent off unceremoniously to – somewhere else. We never see them again so we don't know if they're okay, dead, made into candy filling, or whatever.

What’s worse, while each of these kids definitely had it coming, when it does come the Oompah-Loompahs (a race of little people who work Wonka’s factory) suddenly start singing a moral lesson about how people should be living their lives. I happen to agree with most of the lessons they impart, but what the heck are they doing cropping up, lecture-style, in what started out as a charming children’s fantasy? Especially since they're so unsubtle that you feel as if you've been beaten over the head by them.

It's the sort of behavior you'd expect from today's liberals, except that the message it's sending would today be perceived as quite conservative…

It's too bad, because there’s lot to like here, and the message it sends is actually a positive one despite its heavy handedness. The songs are okay, but as mentioned they slow down the movie. The casting is first rate, though, except for Gene Wilder as Wonka. Maybe it's just me, but I found it hard to buy Wilder as Wonka because of his over the top Mel Brooks work. It isn't as if his performance doesn't work (and he starts off promisingly enough), but I could never suspend my disbelief enough to forget it was Gene Wilder and look at him as Willie Wonka.

The Blu-ray disc, gives the move probably more credibility than it deserves. It's one of the increasingly popular "book" type of releases, where you get a hard cover with the disc and, in this case, about 40 pages of pictures, text and song lyrics. Nothing wrong with that, of course; it's nice to have some substantial liner notes.

The 1080p picture quality is great some places, and really soft and grainy in others. But when it's good it's excellent, very sharp and crisp and colorful, though there isn't a lot of that "pop off the screen depth". Overall, though, it's far better than the DVD I saw a few years ago; I just wish it were consistent.

Audio is Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and it's pretty good. There isn't a lot of surround, which shouldn't be surprising in a film of this age, but the audio is clean and clear and very legible.

Extras include “Pure Imagination: the Making of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” a half hour documentary that gives you a decent look at the film's genesis. There's also a very entertaining feature length commentary with the Wonka Kids - reunited after many years, and a very short featurette from 1971.

You can also sing along with some of the songs and of course you get the original theatrical trailer - in SD.

Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, from Warner Home Video
100 min, Pan&Scan, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson and Peter Ostrum, Roy Kinner, Julie Dawn Cole, Leonard Stone, Denise Nickerson, Dodo Denney, Paris Themmen
Produced by Stan Margulies and David L. Wolper
Written by Roald Dahl, Directed by Mel Stuart

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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