Years ago Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder), the world’s foremost creator of chocolate treats, closed his factory to the public to prevent people from stealing the secrets of his candy making. Out of nowhere the reclusive inventor ships five hidden golden tickets hidden in Wonka bars. Whoever finds a ticket will be allowed to enter the Wonka factory.
The five children include Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner) who never saw a snack he didn’t eat, Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson), spoiled rich girl Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), and television obsessed Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen). The fifth ticket is found by Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) who lives in the slums just blocks away from the fatory with his mother (Diana Sowle) and his bedridden grandparents: Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson), Grandma Georgina (Dora Altmann), Grandma Josephine (Franziska Liebing) and Grandpa George (Ernst Ziegler). Charlie and Grandpa Joe join the others for the tour of the factory led by Willy Wonka himself. Inside they find wonders that they could not even imagine.
From the opening song of The Candyman by Aubrey Woods we are thrust into a magical musical world. The inside of Wonka’s factory creates a visible hunger and awe from the children (the cast was not shown the set until the day of shooting) that is shared by the audience. From the fabulous candy machines to the Oompa Loompas to the magical chocolate river, the film is a treat to your eyes.
Each of the five children do well in their roles as the lucky ticket winners. Ostrum has the hardest role as Charlie who is really the only complicated character of the group and does a good job of balancing his desire and disappointment throughout the film. And the “golden ticket” scene is just great fun!
Wilder proves more than capable as the crazy and plotting Willy Wonka; this is easily the most unsympathetic character of his career, yet he gives Wonka a soul and a heart. This Wonka is actually darker than Johnny Depp‘s Michael Jackson version in the Tim Burton film because Wilder’s character is plotting, scheming and setting up each child to fail. He knows the evil he is doing to these children which is much more chilling than Depp’s obliviousness to it. At the same time he shows moments of happiness and care; his performance of Pure Imagination gives us a glimpse into a very sad man who still dreams.
Aside from the other children each of the characters including Wonka is represented as a three dimensional real life character with dreams and desires of their own. Because of this we are wonderfully sucked into the world wondering what exactly Wonka is doing and what will happen to Charlie and his family.
The DVD and Blu-ray both contain some great extras including commentary from the original children now grown up watching the film and telling their remembrances. There is also the Pure Imagination documentary gives a look back at how this film got made, an interview with director Mel Stuart, and the original 1971 featurette. The sing-a-long feature is also quite a nice little extra as well. The Blu-ray Ultimate Collector’s box also includes a book, various production materials, and a tin with scratch ‘n sniff pencils and a scented eraser.
Burton’s remake fails to achieve the wonder of the original. By making all his characters cartoonish we never really care what happens to them. Here the town outside of the factory is made up of real streets and people you might pass making the inside of the factory much more interesting in contrast to the rather drab outside world. The use of music also adds a sense of adventure and excitement to the film.
Wilder is perfectly cast as the rather mean spirited Willy Wonka. Even though his intentions and motives may be good from his point of view what he knowingly puts the children through makes him something of a monster. Wilder balances this with his easy smile that won’t let us dismiss this man as simply a kook. Through Charlie’s actions Wonka learns to take a chance and trust and dream again.