Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory ★★★½

Although now considered a cult classic at the time of its release Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was not a Box-Office success being only the 53rd Highest Grossing film of 1971 and it’s easy to see why as it’s not the most accessible of children’s films.

Roald Dahl who wrote the story also wrote the Screenplay. He was a little disappointed with the finished product apparently but I have to say he does manage to capture the unsettling nature of the original novel very well. At times Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a frightening, uneasy affair which always has some kind of darkness lurking in the background underneath the bright colours and sweetness. The buildup to the action it must be said is at times a little slow with Dahl seemingly unsure how to generate excitement in the opening stages but things soon heat up once we hit the factory with the level of “pure imagination” at times absolutely extraordinary and the action is thoroughly enjoyable. Dahl was not happy with the finished product as large portions of it were rewritten by David Seltzer who made major changes including changing the ending. Although the whole thing is very entertaining the tonal changes are a little jarring at times with the picture being extremely whimsical at some stages and a little too dark at others.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was directed by Mel Stuart and his work is inconsistent. The buildup is quite good but our expectations as to the magical nature of the Chocolate Factory are ultimately let down. The Factory itself is underwhelming at stages. Nothing looks particularly edible with the chocolate river in particular looking hideous. The filming it must be said is also quite grainy with the cinematography quite dull and gritty which doesn’t really suit the action and the production design isn’t great with much of the action having a cold and industrious feel which doesn’t really suit the writing of the feature. Although it must be said that the musical numbers are excellent throughout and the scoring is very good. On a technical level though overall Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a bit of a letdown.

However, on a casting front this picture is absolutely incredible. The ensemble here are utterly extraordinary and really lift the whole film. Peter Ostrund as Charlie is a very likeable central figure of the picture and his chemistry with Jack Albertson is incredible here making them a very watchable duo. Rory Kinnear is also a brilliant addition to the cast and all of the child actors are surprisingly very entertaining. However, the standout undoubtedly is Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. He is a fantastic Wonka, he manages to be both effortlessly charming and a slightly bit creepy as well. We never fully trust him and he is absolutely enigmatic but it’s still a terrific performance from the legend himself and one of his most famous and memorable roles. For me this is probably Wilder’s best role in a film that wasn’t made by Mel Brooks. He is outstanding here and his charisma makes the entire feature more interesting than it otherwise would be.

In conclusion, although tonally jarring and technically disappointing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is still a curious, watchable and entertaining affair which features some excellent sequences such as the tunnel scene and the famous “you get nothing, you lose” speech. What also helps is the work of an amazing cast of child and character actors and a wonderful set of musical numbers. It’s easy to see why this doesn’t appeal to all tastes but is still considered a classic to many.

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