Looking back, Tim Burton was always on to a bit of a loser when he opted to revisit Roald Dahl’s excellent book Charlie And The Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp in the title role. I can’t have been the only one sat in the cinema thinking that this had all been done much, much better, and with a lot more edge, previously. And it’s the astounding musical version of the same text – Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory – that very much sits as the best of the two films. They’re not even close, truth be told.
Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory isn’t as faithful to the book as Tim Burton’s film was, but it sure sticks in your mind a lot, lot longer. And there are several reasons why. Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s catchy, brilliant songs are a good place to start. Then there’s director Mel Stuart, who guides the film into far more sinister territory, with the boat trip sequence in particular being haunting for a generation of anklebiters (it popped up in the 18 films that genuinely scare us feature that we ran, right here).
The jewel in the crown, though, better than the Oompa Loompas, the non-nauseating cast of child actors and the strong production design, is Gene Wilder. This is as uneasy a central performance in a so-called children’s movie as we can remember. Are we supposed to like him? To be scared by him? Is he on the side of the children? Is he a prelude to the Saw series? For the vast bulk of the running time, you simply don’t know. And in Wilder’s hands, Willy Wonka becomes an immense screen presence. It’s surely one of the man’s best three performances, and those aren’t words written lightly.
With more and more children’s films taking such a softly-softly approach to entertaining kids, Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory is destined to live on for a lot longer yet as a classic of the genre. It appreciates that children have brains, it throws in lots for the adults, and it might even have you checking out the price of the soundtrack album on Amazon. Most staggeringly of all, decades on it’s still just as strong as it always was.
The Blu-ray, meanwhile, isn’t perfect, but it does have some treats to it. The transfer, sadly, does betray the age of the film a little, and it’s quite soft at times. But it does colours exceptionally well, and appreciating the age of the material, a fine job has been done here. It sounds very good, too, with the surround track bringing the terrific music very much to life.
The extra features have been seen before on DVD, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth seeing again. The highlight for us was the commentary track from the ‘Wonka children’, the now grown-up child stars of the film. They have a whale of a time looking back at the film, and it’s very infectious having them as our guide through it. There are a few silences, but it’s great fun.
Then there’s an amazing, if dreadful looking, brief featurette from 1971 that quickly goes behind the scenes of the film. I love stuff like this, and Roald Dahl himself offers a quick talking head to the camera. There’s also the production design touched on, as well as footage of Mel Stuart directing the movie.
More contemporary is the 30 minute look back at the story of the film, which brings in the likes of Gene Wilder, Mel Stuart and some of the faces in front of and behind the camera to share their experiences. There’s some interesting material in there, too (as well as some archive footage), not least with Wilder discussing how to approach acting with his pint-sized co-stars. And it’s very much worth a spin.
Sadly, we in the UK don’t get the extra digibook that came with the US release, but that aside, this is a good release of a wonderful movie. Some fresh features for the Blu-ray would still have been appreciated, though.
The Film:The Disc: Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory is out on Blu-ray now.