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Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on DVD

A Dahl’s House?

By Jim Bray

Warner Brothers’ initial DVD release of this “classic” Roald Dahl story suffers from a couple of major problems.

First, it's Pan&Scan instead of anamorphic widescreen, and this is unforgivable in this day and age of the DVD revolution. Fortunately, it's said that a widescreen edition will follow shortly and if you're into this film that would be the version to get unless you aren't planning to switch to a widescreen TV - ever - and hate the black bars of letterboxing.

Second, I don't think I've seen such blatantly preachy moralizing in a movie since “The Contender,” though I wouldn't be surprised if Spielberg’s A.I. won't be far behind. You can't blame the DVD 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 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) run the gamut from spoiled brat to spoiled brat to spoiled brat to spoiled brat to – Charlie! All the other winners are 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 stuff you'd expect from liberals, except that it's sending what today would be perceived as a conservative message…

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, and the casting is first rate except for Gene Wilder as Wonka. Maybe it's just me, but I found it hard to buy Wilder as Wonka because of his manic 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 DVD, as mentioned, is presented with Pan&Scan video, which is unacceptable. The picture quality is fine, but you miss whatever's happening on the edges of the screen - and if you have a widescreen TV you have to stretch zoom the picture to fit the 16x9 aspect ratio or risk burning in the bars down the sides. On the upside, the audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 and the sound quality is very good as well.

Extras include “Pure Imagination: the Making of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” a feature length commentary with the Wonka Kids, four sing along songs, a 1971 “Behind the scenes” featurette, and a photo gallery.

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


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Updated May 13, 2006