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Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Its Scrumdiddlyumptious! Charlie is let loose in the chocolate factory and every kids dream comes true.

Directed by:

Mel Stuart

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 100 minutes

US Certificate: G UK Certificate: PG

On DVD

Country: United States

Legend has it Roald Dahl was so appalled by this adaptation of his wonderful kiddies’ book ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ that he point-blank refused to allow his follow-up novel ‘Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator’ to be used as a sequel. Sour grapes? Possibly, as Dahl himself originally penned the entire screenplay for this, only to see it drastically re-scribbled by ‘The Omen’ writer David Seltzer. After all, you could see ol’ Roald’s point if the finished article had turned out to be guff. But, as it happens, ‘Willy Wonka’ is wonderful, magical film, featuring a terrific lead performance from Gene Wilder, marvellous music, and the sort of gleefully macabre, almost Pythony humour that – whether Dahl would admit it or not – comes as close to capturing the spirit of his books as any big screen adaptation ever has.

It’s the story of a society that goes confectionary-daft when Willy Wonka (Wilder), the enigmatic owner of a giant chocolate factory, announces that five golden tickets have been hidden inside random sweetie wrappers. Whoever uncovers them will win a guided tour of his top secret candy plant – and it’s probably not giving too much away to tell you that one of the lucky winners is focus-of-the-film Charlie (Peter Ostrum), a down-on-his-luck school kid whose family are so poor that their front room features a dirty great bed full of decrepit old soap-dodgers.

After spending the first half-hour of the film focussing on the frantic worldwide search for the golden tickets, director Mel Stuart goes on to take us on a guided tour of Wonka’s edible hall of plenty. Though never looking like the most high-budgeted of affairs, it’s as memorable a set as you’ll come across – and who among us wouldn’t love an Oompa Loompa of our very own? With their bright orange faces, diminutive stature, and chronic singing voices, they’re just like an entire family of little Christina Aguileras – only with a more sensible dress-sense.

It’s the sort of film you’re likely to interpret differently depending on your age. I can recall absolutely loving it as a kid, and now that I’ve grown up (well, sort of) I love it even more, but for completely different reasons. While the young ‘uns are likely to focus on the fantastical characters, bright colours and mountains of confectionary, there’s a dark, biting sarcasm in each and every one of Gene Wilder’s lines that I’ve only come to appreciate in more recent years.

As for that never-made sequel – well, it might be a bit late for that now, but we can take some solace in the news that a brand spanking new Wonka flick is just around the corner, with Johnny Depp set to don the top hat and cane in Tim Burton’s eagerly-awaited remake. Personally I can’t think of anyone more suited to the task than Burton – but there’s no doubting that, in this classic 1971 version, he’s got one Helluva tough act to follow.

It's Got: Everlasting gobstoppers, a geezer who’s been in bed for twenty years even though he only looks about sixty, and some extremely small small-print.

It Needs: A good sturdy toothbrush and plenty of toothpaste (don’t these kids know what eating all those sweets will do to their pearly whites?).

DVD Extras Nothing – a bit of a disappointment, considering the American version contains a full range of featurettes and commentaries. DVD Extras Rating: 0/10

Alternatives:

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (scheduled for theatrical release in July 2005), James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The Witches

Summary

Choco-rific family fun that does Roald Dahl’s creation proud – even though he never admitted it.

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