Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pure Imagination

Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book was given its first screen treatment in this vivid, tune-filled incarnation that thrilled and terrified young audiences of the day.  A faithful adaptation of the story of a poverty-stricken boy who dares to dream, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) is enhanced with unforgettable songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley (including the #1 hit “Candy Man”) and a uniformly brilliant cast of actors of all ages, from youthful Peter Ostrum to elderly Jack Albertson. 

Like Dahl’s book, the movie approaches the dark side of human nature in a comic fashion. The Golden Ticket contest depicted in the film attracts a host of nasty and spoiled children and their equally greedy and stupid parents—not unlike some of the reality competition shows of today. The Golden Ticket holders, who found their prize in an ordinary bar of Wonka chocolate, are plunged into Wonka’s fantasy world on a day-long tour of his vast facilities. One by one, the children are eliminated from eligibility of the prize—a lifetime supply of chocolate—due to their own appalling behavior. 

Presiding over the proceedings is the multitalented Gene Wilder as candy impresario Willy Wonka. Arguably his most complex role, Wilder’s mercurial Wonka is at turns comic, wise and nonsensical, with surprising flashes of menacing darkness. Resplendent in a purple velvet blazer, top hat and walking stick, his untamed mane of hair flying, Wilder makes the manic mad scientist character his very own, auguring his triumph asYoung Frankenstein a few years later. 

Far superior in every respect to the 2005 Tim Burton/Johnny Depp version, in which the humor and charisma of the Wonka character were demoted to mere irony, this is Roald Dahl’s iconic Willy Wonka story, brought to life with all the depth and dimension of the timeless book. This movie delivers audiences, in the words of Bricusse and Newley, “a world of pure imagination.”  

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