Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory ★★★★★

"Yes! The danger must be growing
For the rowers keep on rowing.
And they're certainly not showing
any signs that they are slowing!"

From childhood to old age, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a film that never fails to delight. This movie, made roughly half a century ago(!!), is still technically impressive to this day and also contains one of the most iconic movie characters of all time. I'm sure the majority of the people seeing this review have already seen this film before, but if you haven't... just go watch it, okay? Stop reading this and go watch it. Willy Wonka is a bit of a family fantasy, a bit of a musical, a bit of a comedy and also quite a bit of a genuinely dark fairy tale that has way more bite than anything Disney's ever worked with.

Gene Wilder stars as Willy Wonka, an eccentric and reclusive candy-maker and inventor who offers a group of children the chance to tour his fantastical secret factory. Most of the kids are endearingly bratty, accompanied by enabling parents. They are annoying, but all very distinct and memorable. Most importantly, they act as an effective foil for Charlie Bucket. Besides Wonka, young Charlie is our main focal point. Charlie lucked into a factory invite ticket, despite only being able to afford a few attempts at finding one, living out a very destitute existence with his weak (and honestly, pretty useless) grandparents. Despite some pretty apparent and hypocritical flaws in his Grandpa Joe's nature, which I'm not sure whether or not were intentionally written, Charlie is a hopeful innocent with a heart of gold. Charlie and the other kids witness amazing sights, smells and sounds at Wonka's factory, but it is an adventure containing as many perils as wonders.

Wilder's sly and sarcastic take on Roald Dahl's Wonka character is really a spectacle to behold. While slightly more distant to the source material than what we got from Johnny Depp's 2005 portrayal, Wilder's Wonka is, without a doubt, the more entertaining, lovable and enduring character. Line after line of deadpan moralizing remarks towards the bratty children would come off as overly smug or unlikable from many actors, but Wilder just NAILS it. He's frequently hilarious and always gives off an air of genuine wisdom beyond normal human comprehension. Wonka (and Wilder himself) is in control of every scene and plot point. It's almost as if his character is directing each scene of the film for the viewer himself and giving us a knowing nod from the moment he enters in the film. It's just a legendary performance of a good source character by an underrated actor.

Besides Wilder, the other real star of this film is the set design itself. Produced long before the days of CGI, we are treated to room after room of incredibly colorful and thoroughly detailed props. The world building of the factory is insanely realized, which is really saying something for a singular inside building. I can't think of a single film location that I'd rather be "Jumanji'ed" into more than the Willy Wonka factory. Imagine getting to be a child actor on this film and experiencing this wonderland for yourself as a kid. Incredible.

I've noted some dislike the overextended first act of the movie before the kids arrive at the factory. While I probably held that view to an extent when I used to watch this as a kid, I thoroughly enjoyed those moments on this viewing. The tongue-in-cheek comedy about the obsessive lengths to which people were going to buy chocolate bars for the chance to visit the factory was mostly hitting on all cylinders. There's a lot of very satirical, silly and British type moments in the humor that really registered with me this time. As a kid, I was probably more just waiting to get to the bright colors and magic of the factory. In any case, the stark tonal difference in the film (which gets much darker thematically but brighter visually) after the first act and leading into the meat of the fantasy section can be viewed as a flaw to some. Nothing of the sort is going to come between me giving this any short of a perfect score, though. This movie has great messages, even if it delivers them with a bit of a sledgehammer, and it's a load of fantasy fun. It's legitimately a family fantasy film AND a black comedy. How cool is that? You aren't likely to see something like this ever made again. While I enjoyed the remake more than most people did, even that wasn't able to quite fill the same tonal range that we're treated to here. My rating: 5 out of 5 // 10 out of 10 golden tickets. -KF

Special Agent Cooper liked these reviews