Whether it invokes squeals of delight or shudders of unease, there's something about Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that sticks with you as a child. On the one hand, you have a society where nearly everyone seems to worship candy — and what little kid wouldn't be interested in visiting that place? — but inside the chocolate factory resides an undeniably creepy troop of Oompa Loompas. Oh, and nearly every kid who visits there mysteriously disappears — Wonka's reassurance at the end of the film that all of them will be just fine never seems that convincing.
Whatever the case, the film, which is based on the book by Roald Dahl, definitely has endured at least in part because of its singular oddness. The film certainly is structured like a happily-ever-after fairy tale, but it's hard to shake the feeling that it's far more sinister than it appears on its face.
Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) is just a poor kid who loves chocolate, so he's overjoyed by the possibility of indulgence when the mysterious Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) announces a contest that will place five golden tickets in Wonka bars across the world, with the winners getting a lifetime supply of chocolate and a day-long visit to the factory.
The film takes its sweet time (pun … not really intended) to actually get to the chocolate factory, and it's a bit of a shame because Wilder, the film's saving grace, doesn't even appear until about halfway through the film. Once we encounter his mystical character and the children enter the truly spectacular chocolate factory, the film hits its stride.
Wilder is a joy to watch as the fun-loving, but occasionally mean-spirited Wonka — the film tries to give off the impression he's only being cruel to serve a greater purpose, but in those moments, he does seem to truly enjoy it. Charlie's Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) provides somewhat of a contrast, as he is unquestionably kind-hearted.
The film has something to say about kids overindulging and becoming spoiled when they get whatever they want, making it seem like a moralistic lesson until the very end, when Wonka himself totally undercuts it all ("But Charlie, don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted. He lived happily ever after."). Talk about conflicting ideals.
Still, despite its ideological inconsistency and an intangible creepiness, Willy Wonka deserves recognition for not succumbing to the family-friendly schmaltz it could've.
The Blu-ray Disc
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The expected standout scenes — those in the psychedelically colorful candy factory — are indeed the highlight of this visual presentation. Colors are strongly saturated without feeling overbearing, and there's a nice balance among all colors. Contrast is particularly excellent, with black levels tending to be quite deep. Picture sharpness and fine detail is excellent for a film this old, aside from a few soft scenes — particularly nighttime exterior shots.
The audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD, which is a much more powerful engine than this originally monaural film requires. Still, it's a clean mix that features a warm front channel dialogue track. Ambient sound is nearly nonexistent, but it never feels like the audio is lacking.
Aside from the Blu-ray book packaging, which features song lyrics and film information, there's nothing new here from the previous standard def release, and no extras have received the high-def upgrade.
Included are a solid making-of doc that runs about 30 minutes and features a lot of interviews, including Wilder and the now-grown children actors, a short featurette on the art direction from 1971, a commentary track with the actors who played the kids and four sing-along sings, including "I've Got a Golden Ticket," "Pure Imagination," "I Want it Now" and the Oompa Loompa song, which strangely features no lyrics on the screen like the other songs.
The Bottom Line
A solid high def presentation is good enough reason to upgrade for fans of the film, with the Blu-ray book packaging adding a little extra incentive.