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Warner Home Video presents
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory HD-DVD (1971)

"Inside this room, all of my dreams become realities, and some of my realities become dreams, and almost everything you'll see is eatable...edible."
- Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 19, 2006

Stars: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum
Other Stars: Roy Kinnear, Julie Dawn Cole, Leonard Stone, Denise Nickerson, Dodo Denney, Paris Thimmen, Aubrey Woods
Director: Mel Stuart

MPAA Rating: G for all ages admitted
Run Time: 01h:39m:51s
Release Date: October 10, 2006
Genre: fantasy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+B-B B+

DVD Review

When a movie is made solely for purposes of product placement, the results tend to be pretty miserable. Although that was the genesis of the original cinematic version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, as a tie-in to a disastrous candy bar from Quaker Oats, it is nonetheless a fondly-remembered picture, thanks in part to a masterful title performance by Gene Wilder and a strong visual sense.

Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) lives in a factory town with his destitute family in a ramshackle hut, dreaming of something better, when candy tycoon Willie Wonka (Gene Wilder) announces that he will open his long-closed factory to five children who find a golden ticket in a Wonka bar. Excitement runs high in the Bucket household when Charlie finds one of the five golden tickets, and he takes with him Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson). The other children are gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), spoiled rich brat Veruca Salt (Julia Dawn Cole), hypercompetitive gum chewer Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson) and TV western addict Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen). The factory proves to be a wondrous but dangerous place, as mishaps begin to befall the children.

Gene Wilder is quite memorable as the lead. His entrance makes an immediate impression, as he limps slowly and painfully with a cane to the front gate and the waiting children, only to fall over precipitously and then somersault surprisingly to his feet. The character's ambiguity is set up perfectly, since it's never clear thereafter whether he's being deceitful or honest. His delivery is smooth and reassuring, slowly revealing hints of madness, giving full rein to his bizarreness in the terrifying boat ride complete with grotesque rear projection elements. But Wonka's dark side is even more frightening in more restrained moments, such as his classic deadpan recitations of "Help. Police." and "Stop. Don't. Come back." that drip with insincerity and quiet pleasure at the children's misadventures.

The kids themselves are quite well cast. Ostrum is the picture of vulnerability as Charlie, and he has a nice rapport with Albertson. Cole dominates the screen as snotty Veruca Salt, on frequent violent rampages that totally cow her father (Roy Kinnear) and annoy everyone around her. Almost as nasty is Themmen as loudmouth Mike Teevee, equally demanding and more than willing to cause havoc for his own gratification. Nickerson's aggressive gum-chewing is completely in-your-face, a far cry from her long-running role on Dark Shadows. Bollner's role is fairly small, but he does a fine job with it. Having one solid child actor in a picture is notable; five all together is a minor miracle.

What really hurts the pacing, surprisingly enough, are the songs contributed by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, who at the time were one of the hottest songwriting teams available. Other than the cautionary moral song of the Oompa Loompas, the miniature orange workers in Wonka's factory, the tunes just get in the way and don't advance the story one whit. Everything comes to a great crashing halt when the songs begin, and except for the Oompa Loompa song could be deleted without any loss at all. They tend to be rather dreary melodies in any event, and the execrable Candy Man is far too saccharine. The lyrics tend to be clumsy at best ("Never pitapat 'em"?) and matters aren't helped any by the songs being crooned by actors who really aren't singers at all, and are given ample opportunity to prove it. Ostrum's singing is cringe-inducing, and Aubrey Woods, a fine comic character actor, absolutely butchers Candy Man, leading one to suspect director Mel Stuart didn't like it much himself.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The HD transfer is a mixed bag. When the screen is static or only has slight motion, most of the time it looks beautiful, with plenty of detail and texture. But when there is rapid motion or a fast pan, the picture smears terribly, which seems to indicate some bit starvation in the transfer. Color is extremely vivid, with Wonka's purple frock coat just jumping off the screen. Veruca's red dress and Violet's red hat are similarly striking. There is mild ringing at time, seen most clearly on the metal sign over the entrance to the chocolate factory. Several shots are very soft and dupey; a few of them are because optical printing effects are being used, and others are quite grainy and seem to be excessively blown up. Most of these appear to be issues with the original film, so no demerits for those sequences. Although some viewers have reported problems with aliasing on this title, I didn't observe any such defects.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrench, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The English 5.1 DD+ track is quite clean, with a certain amount of mild directionality. The surrounds aren't used too much, though the ambient sounds of the Bucket household are extremely vivid and immersive. The dubbing is frequently quite crude, which stands out like a sore thumb. It's not a bad track but certainly not a showpiece either.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by the Wonka Kids (Peter Ostrum, Julie Dawn Cole, Paris Themmen, Denise Nickerson, Michael Bollner)
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Singalong Songs
Extras Review: All of the extras from the special edition DVD are present, though none of them are transferred in HD. The commentary track reunites the five children 30 years later, and they're a convivial group in a good mood. They relate plenty of anecdotes, though Bollner, whose English is not the best, frequently has to be coaxed to add anything. Dull spots or empty silences are quite rare. Pure Imagination (30m:23s) is a solid documentary that includes recent interview segments with all of the children, Wilder, director Mel Stuart and others from the crew. Among other intriguing stories it's disclosed that the finale was being shot with no idea how the picture was going to end. A 1971 vintage featurette includes some behind-the-scenes footage (some of which is repeated in the documentary), and emphasizes the work of art director Harper Goff. Four singalong songs are presented with lyrics onscreen (though oddly, Candy Man, the biggest song in the movie, is not one of them). Finally, there's an anamorphic widescreen trailer in iffy condition.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Other than the songs, which could be omitted without harm to improve the pacing, this is a memorable classic that holds up quite well. There are some problems with the HD transfer, but there are plenty of extras.


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