My earlier review of Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory essentially stated that Burton gets nearly everything right, except Willy Wonka; the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory gets nearly everything right, including Willy Wonka. The classic children’s musical doesn’t have the visuals or the polished look of Burton’s remake, but it has the same wonky, daftly absurd combination of humor and heart that made Roald Dahl’s book such a success.
Though I actually prefer now Freddie Highmore’s Charlie, Peter Ostrum is still admirable as the lone good apple of the bunch, and his relationship with Jack Albertson’s Grandpa Joe is more familial and evident than in the remake, possibly due to the absence of Mr. Bucket. All of the children are appropriately detestable in different ways, with Julie Dawn Cole as Veruca Salt being the most insufferable, and their comeuppances are all the more satisfying for their impudence. Of course, the star of the picture (aside from Charlie) is Willy Wonka himself, and Gene Wilder is perfect as the titular candy maker, even though Dahl had preferred Spike Milligan for the role. Whereas Johnny Depp’s Wonka displayed peculiarities more disturbing than endearing, Wilder spouts classical quotations and jumps between languages effortlessly, playing the candy man as eccentric and only occasionally trending toward insane. Granted, that boat ride is downright creepy (a chicken’s head being cut off? really?), but the rest of Wonka’s antics have a fun weirdness which, as Charlie says, is not necessarily bad. Wilder captures that ideal gray area between sanity and insanity that a character like Willy Wonka requires (and that Johnny Depp couldn’t quite attain), though I would have liked some indication that the bratty kids were indeed all right, as the book and remake did.
Roald Dahl himself despised the film’s changes to his book, and though I agree that the “fizzy lifting drinks” part was unnecessary and detracted from Charlie’s natural goodness, I think that Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory still does his work justice (of course, purely from a reader’s standpoint). Various annoying habits are properly skewered, such as gum-chewing, gluttony, and television addictions, while Charlie’s decency is allowed to shine and be rewarded. The sheer imagination of Dahl’s book is brought to colorful life in the chocolate room sequence; who wouldn’t want to cavort through those edible fields? Though Dahl’s own songs from the book are omitted (and later utilized in Burton’s remake), Willy Wonka’s Oscar-nominated soundtrack is full of memorable ditties that live on from childhood, reaching high points with “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” and “I Want It Now.”
Other films may have appealed to Dahl’s odd sensibilities more, such as Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, or Burton’s take on the Chocolate Factory, but none are quite as delectably appealing as this first Dahl film adaptation. Willy Wonka has only grown in popularity over the years, becoming somewhat of a cult film, and continues to be a scrumdiddlyumptious delight for young and old.
Best line: (Mr. Salt, boarding the Wonkatania) “Ladies first, and that means Veruca.” (Grandpa Joe, to Charlie) “If she’s a lady, I’m a Vermicious Knid.”Rank: 56 out of 60
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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