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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/24/02

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Special Edition - 1971 (2001) - Warner

review by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: Special Edition Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/B

Specs and Features
100 mins, G, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual layered (layer switch at 26:39, in chapter 14), Snapper case packaging, audio commentary (with Peter Ostrum, Julie Dawn Cole, Denise Nickerson, Paris Themmen and Michael Bollner), Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory featurette, 4 sing-along songs, 1971 art direction featurette, photo gallery, original theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (40 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French, Spanish and Portuguese (DD 1.0), subtitles: English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, Closed Captioned

"If she's a lady, I'm a Vermicious Knid!"

An absolute classic, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory stands the test of time as one of the greatest children's movies ever, most likely because we love it as kids and love it even more as adults. The popularity of the film hasn't wavered since it's introduction to home video, so much so that an entire Internet campaign was started to have the film released in anamorphic widescreen on DVD, and Warner catered to those fans. Now, with this new special edition, Willy Wonka will gain many new fans, and old fans will have a chance to rediscover the film in a beautiful new way.

Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) is a young boy who has no friends, no fun and no life. After school, he has to work his paper route while the other kids get together at the candy shop and sing. He lives with his mother and four grandparents (no father) and since the grandparents are bedridden, there is very little money for anything extra than basic food and rent. The only thing that gives him any kind of hope is the local chocolate factory, owned by the world's greatest candy maker Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder).

One day, out of the blue, Wonka starts a promotion to invite five guests into his factory, which is otherwise closed to the public. Inside random candy bar wrappers are five golden tickets, and the people who find the golden tickets get to tour his factory and win a lifetime supply of chocolate. Soon all five tickets are found, and the lucky winners include the always-hungry Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), the materialistic "I-Want-It Now" Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), incessant gum-chewer Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson), the biggest television fan ever Mike TeeVee (Paris Themmen) and Charlie. With all five kids and one parent each, including Charlie's grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson), inside the factory, they'll experience rooms of fantasy, tunnels of terror and a world of pure imagination. You had to know that last one was coming.

Of course, the reason I call this one of the greatest children's films of all time is because it holds up so well. The story is universal, anyone can identify with Charlie. Everyone knows one of the other kids touring the factory. And despite the dated visual effects, the film looks amazing. The cinematography is vibrant and the color palette is vast. And while there is bad late 60's hair on the actors, the film manages to look virtually timeless.

At the same time, Willy Wonka is right up there with Pee-Wee's Big Adventure as being one of the strangest kids film ever. There are the short, orange-skinned Oompa Loompas who work for Wonka. One of the kids is turned into a blueberry. And there is the ever popular "Tunnel of Terror" sequence, where Wonka recites the strangest poem to images of chickens getting their heads cut off and insects crawling on people.

The video on this disc is absolutely amazing for a film of its age. Despite some softness, the colors here are wonderfully bright and vibrant with surprising little bleed. Try Chapter 13, the chocolate churning room, for a wonderful demonstration. Perhaps not since The Wizard of Oz has color been used so wonderfully. To contrast the bright colors, the blacks are nice and deep. Shadow detailing is also good. There are some dirt spots on the print from time to time, especially during the effects sequences. Most of the effects were achieved through composting, which meant that the film had to be printed and reprinted several times, losing quality each time. But short of a re-mastered print for HD-DVD, this is the best you'll see Willy Wonka at home.

The audio is a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1. Less impressive than the video, the sound is focused mainly on the center channel and sounds a little tinny. While the left and right channels are used for surround effects, I only noticed the rears during the tunnel sequence (which, I should add, made the sequence even more delightfully frightening). However, the 5.1 mix makes the Oscar-nominated musical score sound incredible. Overall, the audio is a bit uneven, but never distracting and always solid.

This special edition includes the audio commentary to end all audio commentaries. The Wonka kids, separately known as Peter Ostrum, Julie Dawn Cole, Denise Nickerson, Paris Themmen, and Michael Bollner, all sit down with each other for the first time since filming back in 1971 for this screen-specific commentary. While not horribly informative, filmmaking-wise, this is the most fun you'll have listening to a commentary in a long while. It's almost as if no time at all has passed - all five are very friendly and warm with each other. Julie and Denise banter back and forth about being Peter's girlfriends, and Paris prompts the group with tidbits and trivia. Some of the actors continued to act, some didn't, but it's clear that Willy Wonka has followed them their entire lives, and it's great fun to hear them reminisce.

The next extra to look at is Pure Imagination, a well-produced, 30-minute documentary that includes new interviews with director Mel Stuart, producer David Wolper, Gene Wilder and the kids. There's a lot of great behind-the-scenes information here, as well as old home-movies clips. It's also fun to see are how the Wonka kids look these days (check out Peter Ostrum)!

You'll also find an old featurette from the 70's that focuses on Harper Goff, the production designer. The video and audio is in bad shape, but the information contained in the piece is pretty interesting for you art directors out there. There is a Wonka Sing Along section, which allows you to sing to the individual songs, a la Karaoke. And the 1971 trailer is included, as is a small still gallery and a bare-bones filmography section.

Warner has finally given Willy Wonka the DVD treatment it deserves. If the amazing quality of the transfer isn't enough to convince you to get rid of that old VHS copy, the audio commentary here will definitely do the trick. This gets my vote for one of the best, single-disc DVD special editions yet.

Graham Greenlee
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