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|Kevin Krock, editor|
For the last 30 years, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has dazzled, thrilled and amazed millions of children and adults, and it is one of my childhood favorites. Based on Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and set in a timeless, fictional world, the story starts by introducing us to a poor, hard working boy named Charlie as he struggles to help his family make ends meet.
One day, Charlie walks past the dark and ominous Wonka candy factory and finds out that nobody has been inside the plant in years, yet candy continues to be mysteriously produced. This intrigues Charlie to no end, and it becomes his greatest wish to get inside for a tour. Shortly after that, he finds out that Willy Wonka has announced that five lucky children throughout the world will win a personal tour of his factory, and this only intensifies Charlie's wish. As the entire world goes crazy over finding five golden tickets tucked in the wrappers of Willy Wonka candies, Charlie is stuck dreaming about having enough money to buy one chocolate bar and watching his chances of finding a ticket fade away as four of the tickets are discovered.
Of course, Charlie finds the last golden ticket and gets his greatest wish fulfilled. As Charlie and the four other winners meet Willy Wonka for the first time, they quickly realize that they are in for an adventure unlike anything they could have ever dreamed. Upon entering the factory, the line between reality and fantasy becomes blurred, and Wonka leads the children and their guardians through a series of fascinating, bizarre, and tempting scenarios.
One by one, the children succumb to their inner desires to stray from Wonka’s rules and end up getting themselves in serious trouble. Charlie is the only remaining child by the end of the tour, and in the end he demonstrates that honesty, a good heart, and moral strength provide rewards far greater than those obtained from the immediate fulfillment of material wants.
After watching this movie numerous times over the years, I have always wondered what happened to children who played the five lucky golden ticket winners after this film was completed. With this 30th anniversary DVD, that curiosity has now been satisfied. Besides the sing- alongs, photo gallery, trailer, and an interesting but short, four-minute-long 1971 featurette, there are two other wonderful additions that make this package pretty sweet.
The first is a very nicely produced 30-minute documentary called "Pure Imagination," which was made specifically for this DVD. It covers the entire production cycle of the film from concept to legacy, and it does so with a great balance of classic behind- the- scenes footage and new interviews with the cast and crew.
The old footage is fascinating to watch, and we get treated to clips of Harper Goff—art designer behind Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. and the Jungle Cruise—designing the incredible sets, Gene Wilder relaxing on the set, and many others. The interviews shed new light on many aspects of the film, and seeing and catching up with all of the grown-up Wonka children is also pretty cool. By the end, you are left with a much better appreciation of how this film was put together, and what has made it last all these years.
The second interesting feature is a full-length commentary by all of the grown-up Wonka children, designed to complement the excellent documentary. Because the commentary was recorded as the cast watched the movie together for the first time since the premiere, many stories not told in the documentary get related here. They sound very relaxed throughout the movie, and when telling stories, they do a pretty good job of letting each other talk.
One aspect I found rather intriguing is how the on-screen personalities of the children can still be heard in the adults; some are more similar than others. For example, Paris Themmen plays Mike Teevee, an obnoxious know-it-all. Throughout the commentary, Paris always seems to have something to add to the discussion. It happens enough to be a tad annoying, but it does not generally detract from the commentary. There are more than enough cool little stories to make it well worth a listen.
The Video, Audio and Interface
The video is the single most significant point of contention about this disc. For months, Warner Brothers was touting a single DVD with both pan- and- scan and anamorphic widescreen formats. Within a month of the release date, it became apparent that Warner was only releasing this 30th anniversary disc in a full- frame, pan- and- scan version that is not truly accurate to the film’s theatrical release format. Their reason was that families only want full-frame movies, regardless of the film’s original, theatrical format.
For those of you that demand or enjoy widescreen DVDs for films photographed in a wide format: skip this version and wait until November. For the rest of you, format issues aside, the restored picture on this disc is simply wonderful. I could watch the Chocolate Room scene, with Gene Wilder singing "Pure Imagination" over and over—the color and detail are stunning. The colors throughout the movie are beautifully bright and saturated, and the darker scenes maintain depth and detail. The video looks virtually free of film related annoyances, such as scratches or dust, and the digital transfer does not appear to show any obvious artifacts. This is definitely the best I have seen this movie look in years, and, personally, I can’t wait to see and compare the widescreen version.
The audio also received a good dose of restoration, and it, too, sounds better than any VHS or television version I have seen in recent years. While most of the audio emanates from the center channel of this Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, the music and many of the ambient sound effects have been spread around to fill the room. Overall, the audio is clear and well balanced, and it should be a treat to listen to, regardless of the audio system you have.
While Warner Brothers may have slipped a bit on the format of the video transfer, they appear to have the right idea about the user interface. There is a cute introductory animation of Wonka bars being opened up until one reveals a golden ticket, and then the main menu appears. Pleasantly, just about all of the menus are animated and accented with music from the film. Because there is not a ton of bonus material on this disc, the menu hierarchy is fairly simple and there are only about five or six menu screens. All menu text is easy to read, and the interface should be easy enough to use for most family members.
The Final Evaluation
It is hard to pass up a classic film like this, especially when it is coupled with a great documentary, an interesting commentary, restored video and audio, and a few other little treats. The deciding factor for most will be whether to add the widescreen or pan- and- scan version to your DVD collection.
Unfortunately, widescreen fans will have to wait a while longer than the rest, but I am certain the wait will be worth it. Aspect ratio controversy aside, this collection is definitely worth a close look for any family DVD collection.
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