(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.
(On TV, January 2018) I didn’t end up enjoying Chitty Chitty Bang Bang all that much, which is strange given that I certainly expected to like it. Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes, fancy retro-technology … what’s not to like? The film is a minor reference in Science Fiction fannish circles, so I finally got some of the jokes. Even the opening credit sequence has a few promising surprises, from a Roald Dahl script of an Ian Fleming story. What a pedigree! For a while, it looks as if the film is off to a good start with an eccentric inventor, a big musical sequence set in a candy factory and enough quirky ideas to keep things interesting. I even had an audible “ah ha” as I recognized the source of a verbal tic (“toot sweet”) of an acquaintance of mine. Somehow, though, along the way Chitty Chitty Bang Bang sort of lost me. The radically different second act takes us to an unpleasant place, and while I was momentarily fascinated by the film all over again during the “music box doll” sequence, the film seemed less interesting as it went on. It wasn’t what I was expecting.