The only difference between “Willy Wonka” then and “Willy Wonka” now is the stark realization at how dark it is. Gene Wilder — never better before or since — is seriously unhinged as the daffy candy magnate who doesn’t try to stop the kids from falling into harm’s way during their tour to his fantastic factory, even subjecting them to mondo images of decapitated chickens. (Try that, Pixar!)
If there’s a fault to the film, it’s that it takes an inordinate amount of time to get to the factory. (That’s the one thing Tim Burton’s 2005 remake corrected.) But the wait is worth it.
Roald Dahl himself (who appears in a newly discovered archival featurette) wrote the imaginative screenplay from his own novel, and the sets are as amazing as he had to imagined them. The score is superior, too, but would you expect anything less than the songwriting team who gave us “Goldfinger”? Even the ending makes me teary-eyed to this day.
But the presentation of this “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” makes me happy. Packed in a big, purple box, the Blu-ray and DVD combo pack are housed in what looks like a Wonka Bar — convincing enough that my daughter tried to unwrap it. Speaking of kids, they’ll love all the extra goodies stuffed inside the box, including a tin that contains a chocolate-scented eraser and four pencils, each carrying its own smell, like schnozzberry. A full-color paperback book tells the story behind the story, straight from the horse’s mouth — or director Mel Stuart’s. And facsimiles of notes and letters between studio heads and talent make for a fascinating look at the way things used to work, particularly Wilder’s handwritten letter giving input on the script.
All you music makers and dreamers of dreams, this stellar set is for you. —Rod Lott