Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory ★★★★½

Gene Wilder is absolute perfection here. All of his performances, at least through the 1970s, were brilliant but this is a performance for the ages. The wide-eyed wonder, the insanity, the sarcasm, the anger, Wilder is a magician, a benevolent man giving the gift of sweetness and sugar to the world and a temperamental tyrant punishing those who break his rules. I've never quite bought Wonka's assurance near the end that the children who have met such strange fates throughout the movie will be fine and dandy. It rings a tad false. Wonka's insane chant during the surreal boat ride, however, feels completely genuine. There really is no Earthly way of knowing just how fast we all are going, or where the ultimate destination will be. But whatever it is, Wilder has earned a good one. If only for this performance, Wilder deserves to live on forever, and he will in the hearts and minds of anyone who values fun and imagination and silliness, for anyone who wants to see what unbridled genius looks like. Wilder always had a gift for combining sweetness and lunacy in thrilling, unexpected ways. No matter how often I watch "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory", his performance catches me off guard. He's so deliriously, deliciously perfect here, so inspired and electrifying to watch. Before he enters the film, it's fine. After he arrives, however, it's simply breathtaking to watch.

Of course, there are other crucial elements that make it endure as well. The production design is top notch. The vibrant colors, the chocolate and sweets that look so inviting you want to reach through the screen and take them, the child actors giving naturalistic, realistically bratty performances. The performances here are wonderful across the board, all of the child actors doing great work.

But without Wilder, this film would be on the same level as most children's films which are fun but which require a certain degree of misty nostalgia to truly work. Wilder's ingenious, diabolical and ultimately warm-hearted portrayal of the deranged candy-maker, however, is every bit as bold, vibrant and thrilling as the chocolate and the production design. In fact, it's even more so. It grabs you by the throat and pulls you along, giddily.

Rest in peace, good sir. You were always a wonder to behold.

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