Director: Mel Stuart
Writer: Roald Dahl
Stars: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum, Roy Kinnear, Julie Dawn Cole, Leonard Stone, Denise Nickerson
Runtime: 1 hr 40 mins
“Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.”
Now we’re coming to the end of our little celebration of Gene Wilder so I thought I’d end on the big one. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory follows a little boy, Charlie (Peter Ostrum), living in poverty. After news that Willy Wonka’s (Gene Wilder) famed chocolate factory will be reopened to five lucky golden ticket winners, Charlie becomes excited to become one of them. After losing hope against the “hundreds of billions” of other people searching (Charlie’s mother doesn’t quite know the world’s population), Charlie actually wins one. Then Charlie, his grandfather (Jack Albertson), and four other lucky winners and their family members go to the factory, meet the enigmatic Mr Wonka and go on the greatest adventure a child could dream of.
This is a film I haven’t seen in a long time. The tragic thing about it was I had just decided I wanted to watch it again and bought the bluray only a couple of days before Gene Wilder’s very sad passing. Now getting to watch it again, this film is still as wonderful as I remembered from my childhood. The film takes a good 45 minutes before we even see Wonka and enter his factory but it doesn’t feel too long. The film lets us know Charlie plenty and the almost half the movie wait for Mr Wonka’s appearance only serves to benefit the mystery of the character. Then the film cements the unpredictability of the character in the most genius introduction of a character ever. And the fake limp to falling rolly polly was all from Gene Wilder’s mind.
Gene Wilder is hilarious and brings the perfect mixture quirkiness and creepiness. It’s not a bad creepiness, it just makes the character even more mysterious which in turn makes the film incredibly enchanting and engrossing even for an adult. This film has an impressive amount of darkness to it although it never ruins its family appeal. It’s a madly fun and colourful world of Roald Dahl imagination.
The film also has a few songs to it. Although most of them are forgettable, two really standout. The Umpa Lumpa song is is rather addictive but it’s the “Pure Imagination” song that is true magic. It really is one of the best songs of classic musicals.
This film is also a very funny one. There were plenty of times I was caught out and burst into laughter which was one of the most surprising things to me seeing as this is a children’s movie from the early 70s. The thing is, Gene Wilder’s comedy doesn’t rely on references or any of that. It’s timeless brilliance. This is definitely one of the greatest single performances of all time and maybe the best in a family film. The combination of Wilder to Wonka is simply sublime. A whole lot better than Johnny Depp, that’s for sure. Peter Ostrum is also great in his child performance along with Jack Albertson as his grandfather. The rest of the kids are fantastic as well. Then there’s the film’s brilliant message about greed and how it doesn’t get rewarded. This film is simply the perfect package. It truly is a world of pure imagination.
Summary: Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka is one of the greatest characters of family film in one of the greatest family films ever.
Best Performance: Gene Wilder
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
-Written by Greg Warne