Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

(On DVD, March 2018) Surprisingly enough, I had never seen Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as a kid … and I’m almost glad I hadn’t, because few other children’s movies have such a naked contempt for their audience. (Needless to say, it’s adapted from a novel by famous misanthrope Roald Dahl.)  As a result, the film is almost more interesting for adults than for kids—my favourite aspects of the film was the madcap “the world’s gone wild for golden tickets” news footage from the first half, and then Gene Wilder’s spectacularly sarcastic performance as Wonka in the second half. “Bad kids versus super-snarker” would be one possible alternate title. For a 1971 film, it certainly delivers on high concept imagination: The wild world of candy is pushed to its conceptual limits, and the special effects are often surprisingly good. Still, much of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory depends on Wilder and his oddball sense of humour. I audibly laughed at a few moments, from the computer sequence to the teacher scenes to Wonka’s literary allusions. Wilder’s performance in incarnating eccentric trickster Wonka is terrific—no wonder it became a reference. What’s particularly likable about the film is how it’s really not afraid to hop between moods as needed—the tunnel sequence is just as creepy as it ever was, and yet it fits in-between the far more light-hearted rest of the film. (It probably plays much better on a second viewing, as it becomes a pushed-to-eleven example of Wonka’s deliberate eccentricity. While the musical numbers are hit-and-miss (“The Candy-man” is a classic for other reasons) and the ending is a bit abrupt, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a surprisingly good time for those who haven’t yet seen it.

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