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Willy Wonka & Chocolate Factory: 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition

Warner Bros. // G // October 18, 2011
List Price: $64.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted October 17, 2011 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
Back into the factory for more goodies

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Gene Wilder
Likes: Good kids movies
Dislikes: Remakes, re-imaginings
Hates: Pointless Re-releases

The Story So Far...
Adapted from Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the story of Charlie Bucket, a reclusive confectioner and a moral-enforcing candy factory has become a timeless favorite for generations since its release in 1971 and on home video it continues to find new fans, through a multitude of releases on DVD and high-definition formats. DVDTalk has reviews of several of them.

The Movie
Kids today are pretty lucky. When I was a young boy, there was no Pixar, cranking out yearly bursts of creative kid-friendly brilliance. We were basically stuck with whatever Disney deigned to pull out of the vaults and the occasional indie animated movie. But there was also Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Any time it was on TV was a cause for celebration because this was a movie that was fun and weird and fantastical and it grabbed your imagination like nothing else because it was about kids and candy and possibilities.

But most of all it was about Willy Wonka, a mad creative genius to whom there were no rules, and when played by Gene Wilder, he became one of film's most iconic characters. Johnny Depp may have tried his best (and created a pretty unique character in his own right) but there are no characters that can compare to Wilder's force of nature in a purple velvet jacket. Everything about him, from his look to his tone to his mannerism draws you in and makes you want more. That he doesn't show up until 44 minutes into his own film only extends the mystique.

The reason he makes such a late arrival is thanks to the need to build his myth, which the film does beautifully. We are shown that kids love Wonka candy, but learn that he man behind them is a mystery who withdrew from society thanks to corporate espionage that threatened his business. But then, he holds a contest to allow a select few to meet him and tour his factory, if they find a golden ticket in one of his candies. The race to find one introduces us to group of kids who represent a variety of bad traits, and Charlie Bucket.

Charlie Bucket may be the saddest boy in the history of cinema. Having lost his father, He now lives in poverty with his washerwoman mother and his four grandparents, who share a bed they seemingly never leave. After school and work, he returns home to have cabbage soup. His mother sings him a song titled "Cheer Up Charlie" that Morrissey declared too sad to perform. It is truly pathetic, and since he is poor, he can't even buy the candy that holds the hope of visiting the Wonka factory. But, fortune smiles upon the meek here, and Charlie lucks his way in, joining the kids for their tour, bringing along his previously moribund Grandpa Joe. Also fortunate was the casting of Peter Ostrum, in his only acting role ever, as he delivers a wonderful performance as our put-upon hero.

At that point, we enter Saw Jr., as the children are picked off one by one, done in by their own flaws, as they give in to the temptations of the factory. It's here where the movie's true self is revealed, as the film has been a fairy tale of sorts, but now it's a full-on fable, and Willy Wonka reveals himself to be less a benevolent candy dictator and more of a sociopath, disposing of children with ease and detachment, though having his army of small, orange-skinned Oompah Loompahs to clean up the mess left behind probably helps. For a film that, on the surface, seems so child-friendly, at its heart, it's a film for adults (especially when you board the Wonkatania, in a scene that will stick with any child forever even if, at the time, you're not quite sure why. )

That said, there's no reason for any child not to watch this film, because the eventual lessons are so positive and the really dark stuff isn't all that evident (at least until the end, in a moment that is absolutely stunning the first time you watch it, especially for a kid.) The moment you enter the chocolate room, to the sound of the beautiful song "Pure Imagination", there's a sense similar to the entrance to the land of OZ, as the film becomes practically psychedelic, bending reality in a joyful way, the way any good musical should (and yes, this is a musical, only without the dance numbers (with the exception of the "Golden Ticket" number and depending on your view of just what it is the Oompah Loompahs are doing.))

Despite all the good stuff happening in this film, it is certainly not perfect. The beginning, though starting out well, gets a bit too lost in the exposition of the eventual story, reaching the point where it feels like two or three movies shoved together, as the hunt for the Golden Tickets gets a bit silly (even if those scenes on their own are quite amusing.) As a result of spending so much time with the search, the actual time spent in the factory is relatively short, and the ending seems like it almost comes out of nowhere. If you don't watch this film for a while, when you return again and reach the climax you might think "Oh yeah, it's over," surprised at how suddenly we reach the finish line. Pacing is not the movie's strong suit, but perhaps that's fitting, as few could pace themselves well if they found themselves in Willy Wonka's world.

The Discs
The 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory arrives in a massive individually-numbered, holofoil spot-embossed box (with a a run of 100,000), a little taller than a standard keepcase, more than two keepcases wide and about three keepcases deep (see the video below to get an idea of the size.) Open the drawer at the bottom on the box, and you'll reveal all the contents (see The Extras for the details.) The movie is part of a three-disc set, with a Blu-Ray of the film, a DVD copy and a second DVD with some bonus materials. The discs come in a three panel digipak with attractive Wonka Bar art on the outside and a nice spread of character art on the inside, with the Blu-Ray in one tray and the two DVDs overlapped on another.

The Blu-Ray goes right into the movie when you start it up, but there's a simple menu screen with options to start the film ans select extras and adjust the set-up, while the pop-up menu lets you select chapters. There are six audio options, including English Dolby True HD 5.1 and French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 1.0 tracks, but there's a whopping 13 subtitle tracks, including English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian, Italian SDH, two Spanish tracks (labelled as Castellano and Spanish), Dutch, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish, as well as closed captioning.

The Quality
In my head, Willy Wonka is far more beautiful than it is in reality, but it still looks pretty good in this 1080p VC-1 transfer, even at an advanced age. That's said, there's quite a bit of variation in the quality of the image, with some scenes looking far better than others, with darker scenes coming off far rougher and full of excessive grain and noise, than the lighter moments, like the scene outside the factory before the door opens, which is quite nice. Sometimes, the image approaches perfection, with the early scenes in the very European streets of Munich looking sharp, full of great detail and spot-on color, with the bright reds of the kids' shorts burning bright, but pulling up short of smearing. But then the Chocolate Room, which should be the most gorgeous scene in the film, has a slight brown haze over it, a problem evident in several scenes. Meanwhile, the visual effects not accomplished practically suffer from having their flaws made more evident by a clearer image, though there haven't been any additional problems with compression artifacts introduced.

Coming into this film, I had high expectations for the sound, considering how memorable the film's songs are, but the Dolby True HD 5.1 track just doesn't blow you away. Yes, the songs sound good most of the time (some minor distortion can be heard a times in the vocals) and the dialogue and sound effect come off nice and clear, but I was hoping for more activity in the side and rear speakers, but the center-focused presentation likely captures a truer representation of the original film. That said, there is some light activity in the surround speakers, including some support for the music, which sounds terrific. (Note: the packaging mentions a separate Dolby Digital 5.1 track on the Blu-Ray disc, but this seems to be an error.)

The Extras
The package is indeed intended for collectors, as once you open the box there are several interesting non-disc items, starting with a softcover reprint of Mel Stuart's 2002 book (with Josh Young) Pure Imagination: The Making of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory". This is a great book for fans of the film, loaded with pictures from the set and basically a blow-by-blow of the film's production, plus a look at the movie's legacy and some analysis of it as well. According to the back cover the book has been edited from the original edition, though that seems like legal talk, since the page numbers correspond between the two versions.

Also entertaining and interesting is the packet of 14 pieces of reproduced correspondence related to the film, including letters to the cast, update memos to the producers from Stuart and a cast list of actors considered for the role of Willy Wonka. But the gem of this content is a three-page reproduction of a handwritten letter from Wilder to Stuart about his character's costume. The amount of thought he put into this letter is astounding and shows just how much he put into crafting Willy Wonka.

Beyond those two items, it really is about the word collectibles, as you get a neat replica Golden Ticket, done in the spirit of the film, but with an entry for a sweepstakes to win a trip to California (likely a limited edition item, as it isn't mentioned on the back of the box.) Thee's also a cute pencil tin with a Wonka Bar design, containing four scratch-and-sniff pencils, including Snozzberry and Hair Cream, as well as a chocolate-scented Wonka Bar eraser. This stuff is a bit frustrating, as you would want to preserve it as a limited-edition, numbered set, but you might want to use it too (or give it to a child to use.) But at this price, would you?

Once you get to the discs, the only additions over the first Blu-Ray are found on the second DVD, which seems a bit unnecessary, as it only holds two featurettes that run a combined 25 minutes (obviously a cost-saving measure, since it let them basically reprint the Blu-Ray.) Sadly, the opportunity has been missed to maybe spotlight Wilder or maybe talk to some fans of the film, but this is what we've been given. Up first is the 13-minute "Mel Stuart's Wonkavision," centered around a new interview with the director, with additional thoughts from his children (both of whom are in the film) and Ostrum and Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt.) Stuart offers some tidbits about the film and his thoughts on how it came together (including his fights with the producers over the music and the "I've Got a Golden Ticket" scene.) It's a welcome addition, as Stuart's passion for the film is evident, but to be half the DVD's content?

The second extra is a vintage 12:32 featurette about the film titled "A World of Pure Imagination." Including an interview with Dahl, and great on-set footage, the piece has a narrator so earnest that he belongs on NPR, but it drags thanks to an extensive clip of nearly the entire scene leading up to the Chocolate Room. Though a natural online promo item, at this length, I wonder where in the early 1970s this might have seen the light of day.

The rest of the extras return from the previous Blu-Ray release (and the DVD before that, minus the cast text screens.) The best of the bunch is the audio commentary, featuring the kids, all grown up, with Ostrum, Cole, Paris (Mike Teevee) Themmen, Michael (Augustus Gloop) Bollner and Denise (Violet Beauregarde) Nickerson. It' a fun track, and the result of the power of time, as it was the first time the kids saw the movie together in over 30 years. They have a good time chatting about the movie and try to offer up lesser-known info about the film, (including talk of on-set crushes) but it's mostly a good time between a group of people with a shared experience and a long absence between them.

The 30-minute "Pure Imagination: The Story of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory adds an adult perspective on the production, as Stuart, Wilder and producer David Wolper join the party to talk about the film (along with some on-camera interviews with the now-adult kids. It's the perfect complement to the commentary, with Wilder's memories of how he developed the role, his experiences on the film (including a humorous mention of Themmen) and his view of the film's legacy being invaluable to any fan. Though a touch short for a film with so much worth covering, it's utterly efficient and smooth in telling the story of the film and enjoyable from beginning to end.

Another shorter featurette (4:02) from 1971 is actually a variant on a section in the newly included featurette, focusing mainly on the set design, but it was done by the same group as the other, so the feel and some of the content is the same. The disc wraps up with the theatrical trailer, which shows how bad this film could look without care, and four songs from the film presented with karaoke-style on-screen lyrics, though if you care about the songs, there's a good chance you know the lyrics by heart.

The final extra is a DVD copy of the film, which is the same release that came out in 2001 (a point made clear by the presence of the same (admitted impressive for the time) menus and extras, with the credit screen copyright going unchanged in the 10 years since.) There are a few extras included here that weren't transitioned to Blu-Ray, including the Cast and Crew text screens an d a short automatic photo gallery of small stills, but the main value of this discs is if you have kids, as it's handy ton let them watch this one, while keeping your Blu-Ray copy out of their hands.

The Bottom Line
I can't imagine a time when Willy Wonka won't speak to people, as its core is about the more beautiful elements of humanity, while the wacked-out world of the factory is timeless fun and Wilder's performance is too good to ever have an expiration date. But while this is certainly an attractive package, it really is for collectors, due to the collectibles angle, or for those who don't already own the film, as there's not much content added over previous releases. However, it is the most complete version to date, especially with the book included, and one gets the feeling, sadly, it might be the best we'll ever get.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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