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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Widescreen)
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Widescreen)
Warner Bros. // G // November 13, 2001
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 25, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory airs on cable at least seventeen or eighteen times a day, and I'm unable to resist the temptation to watch it each and every time. I'd somehow managed to go twenty-three years without seeing Willy Wonka in its original aspect ratio, and Warner's original widescreen disc from September 1997 had long enjoyed a place on my seemingly-endless "DVDs I Need To Get One Day" list. When the announcement of a thirtieth anniversary DVD began floating around message boards, a purchase Willy Wonka and its impressive assortment of extras seemed to be a no-brainer. That is, until the darkness rolled in... Despite the fact that an anamorphic widescreen presentation had been fully prepared, it was lopped off in favor of a full-frame only disc slated for release in August 2001, perhaps because of Warner's recent abandonment of the dual-sided/dual-layered DVD-18 format. Forums like DVD Talk reacted swiftly, barraging the studio with calls, e-mails, and signed petitions, hopefully dispelling the notion that "kids' movies", whatever that means, should fill every available scanline of a 4x3 television screen.

The first and only feature film financed by food manufacturing giant Quaker Oats, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is so firmly entrenched in pop culture now that it's difficult to imagine the movie as a box office disappointment during its initial release in 1971. Based on Roald Dahl's 1965 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the first half of the film focuses on the Wonkamania that erupts when the titular reclusive candyman opens his factory for the first time, but only to the five lucky children who happen upon golden tickets hidden in his candy bars. Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, Charlie Bucket makes it his life's goal to find one of the tickets. The only problem is that his family is so impoverished that he, his mother, and his bedridden grandparents feast on nothing but cabbage water, and candy bars are seen as rare luxury items. I suppose it wouldn't be a very long film if Charlie weren't successful at some point down the road, and he and his Grandpa Joe enter the factory that had so long captured their imaginations alongside the ravenous Augustus Gloop, spoiled brat Veruca Salt, world-record gum-chewer Violet Beauregarde, and the television-obsessed Mike Teevee. Everything in the factory, down to the wallpaper, is edible, and there's apparently no end to the bizarre confectionary delights cobbled together by the eccentric, ever-inventive Wonka. The candyman has his own ulterior motives for inviting the children there, and it becomes painfully clear that most of them aren't up to the challenges they'll face.

What an incredible film. I was hesitant to review Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory initially because I didn't think I could do it justice. Sure enough... Gene Wilder is incredible, of course, in the role that defined his career. It's difficult to play a character that's gentle on one hand and justifiably sinister on the other, but the immensely talented Wilder does just that without so much as breaking a sweat. The unparalleled creativity of the set design is among the most memorable of any motion picture ever filmed, and the musical numbers are seamless and never seem gratuitous. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is one of very few films that inspires that childlike feeling in me without pandering, joining the Toy Story series and the grossly underrated The Iron Giant in that respect. If you are or have ever been young (that should be all-inclusive), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is the sort of film you have to experience at least once. For those of you seeing this movie for the first time, I envy you.

Video: This disc is the second time that an anamorphic presentation of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has somersaulted its way onto DVD. Earlier this year, it seemed as if the film's large fanbase would be forced to choose between a loaded special edition with a gorgeous but open-matte transfer or a bare-bones version sporting an unremarkable widescreen image, preserving the movie's theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Apparently the third time's the charm, as this DVD at long last offers the best of both worlds. Color saturation and detail sorely outclass every presentation I've managed to catch to date. There are few flaws to be had, and those I did spot were present in earlier versions of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as well. A handful of shots are on the soft side, though fewer by a fair margin than airings on cable, and the opening montage as well as most of the Bavarian exteriors exhibit a thin veil of grain. Those scenes making generous use of optical effects also show their age. One of the more striking changes evident from the first few moments is the vast reduction in the sort of speckletasticness that was previously such a constant headache. The occasional speck still appears, but the total number has been reduced considerably. Colors are stunning, perched to leap clear off the screen with their unmistakable Technicolor vibrancy. This is another truly impressive effort from Warner.

Audio: The theatrical monaural soundtrack is not included with this DVD, though the Dolby Digital 5.1 remix would seem to be faithful to the original audio. The majority of the mix stems from the front and center of the soundscape, and rears remain idle except when adding a much-appreciated kick to the Oscar-nominated musical numbers. The LFE is used so sparingly that I repeatedly heard the distinctive click of my Energy Star-compliant subwoofer turning off after lengthy periods of inactivity. The five main songs -- "The Candy Man Can", "Cheer Up, Charlie", "(I've Got A) Golden Ticket", "Pure Imagination", and "Oompa Loompa" -- have all been imbued with new life, certainly belying their age and making full use of the six channels at their disposal. Though not the most dynamic of remixes, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio stays true to the original, never compromising the presentation or adding that annoying gimmicky feel. As far as other languages go, stereo surround tracks are provided in French, Spanish, and Portugese, which should cover most everyone in North and South America.

Supplements: The commentary track reunites the Wonka children, and although they'd done a couple of convention appearances as a group, this was the first time in decades that they'd piled into a single room and watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory together in its entirety. Similar to the Goonies commentary track, the participants most swap reminiscences of production and gab about crushes, offering little in the way of technical notes, but still managing to be quite a bit of fun. Also worth a peek is the more informative half-hour documentary, Pure Imagination, which features contributions from Gene Wilder, director Mel Stuart, and producer David L. Wolper, all of whom were noticeably absent from the commentary. Each of the kids appears on camera as well, allowing us to associate a face with the disembodied voices on the commentary track. The documentary compiles interviews with nearly everyone, examining the project from its debut as a novel to difficulties encountered during the course of production through its status as one of the best-loved movies of the latter half of the century. A four-minute featurette from the early '70s is included as well, presenting a bit more in the way of behind-the-scenes footage. Rounding out the supplemental material are a trailer, a bouncy-ball sing-along, and an undistinguished photo gallery.

Conclusion: Though quite a few members of DVD Talk and the Home Theater Forum are expressed considerable difficulty in finding this widescreen special edition of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in stores, this disc is well-worth the effort. The DVD combines an immaculate audio/visual presentation and a slew of quality extras. Take care to look for the red 'widescreen' banner at the top of the cover art. Available online for as low as $16.74 shipped, Willy Wonka is a nostalgic blast that holds up phenomenally well to repeat viewings. This DVD is absolutely worth an addition to any collection. Highly recommended.
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