Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Going Wild for Wilder's Willy Wonka

Whilst Tim Burton's highly visualized adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" may appeal to a new generation of movie lovers and those who think Johnny Depp is amazing, for me the original 1971 adaptation "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" is the best. Despite being over 40 years old "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" is still a wonderful movie, full of childlike imagination, catchy tunes and brilliant performances, especially from Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka.

Years after becoming a recluse, hidden away in his chocolate factory, Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder - The Producers) suddenly shocks the world when he announces that hidden within his chocolate are 5 golden tickets, allowing the lucky recipients who discover them a tour around his factory and one will win a lifetime supply of Wonka chocolate. Hysteria abounds around the world as everyone wants to find a golden ticket, no more so than young Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), except as his family are on the bread line and can't waste money on sweets the chances are slimmer than slim. But miraculously he does and along with 4 other lucky ticket finders they get to go inside the magical world of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

Peter Ostrum and Jack Albertson in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

It has to be said that Roald Dahl had an amazing imagination able to tap in to childhood fantasies and then add a twist to them. Without his wonderful story as well as his own adaptation of it to a screenplay "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" would not be the long lasting classic that it has become. But it's also the way that director Mel Stuart has managed to capture that imagination on the big screen with wonderful sets where dreams come true as well as delivering a darker mysterious side so that the movie is not just a jolly jaunt through a candy wonderland. It's the focus on the storyline, the way it takes us on a journey with Charlie Bucket being central to it that keeps us so entertained.

What is also clever is that by turning "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" into a musical it works and becomes more memorable. There are various tunes such as "The Candy Man", "(I've Got a) Golden Ticket" as well as the slightly strange "Oompa-Loompa-Doompa-De-Do" which stick in your mind long after the movie has finished, I even bet you are singing one now. It's actually quite strange that whilst being a musical it actually doesn't feature as many songs as you would normally expect.

Probably the biggest reason after Roald Dahl's marvellous imagination as to why this movie works is the sublime choice of Gene Wilder to play Willy Wonka. It is an iconic performance from the comedy genius that delivers from the now famous fake trip and roll in his opening scene right through to the end. Wilder manages to deliver a performance with a touch of childlike quality with his enthusiasm yet there is also the darker adult side, the slightly melancholy side to his character, the occasional sadness which creeps out from Wilder's eyes as they seem to wistfully stare in to the distance. Accompanying Wilder and in his only real movie performance is Peter Ostrum who does give a remarkably capable performance as Charlie Bucket. When compared to various other childhood actors, Ostrum doesn't come across like a precocious brat and there is innocence, even rawness to his performance which makes it believable.

Whilst Gene Wilder and Peter Ostrum are the stars of "Going Wild for Wilder's Willy Wonka" it is all the other wonderful characters and performances which help to make it such a magical journey. From Julie Dawn Cole as Veruca Salt with her father played by Roy Kinnear as well as Denise Nickerson as Violet Beauregarde there are a whole range of enjoyable performances. But the really great supporting performance comes from Jack Albertson as Grandpa Joe who really is the perfect Grandpa, a little mischievous, protective and fun to be around.

What this all boils down to is that despite being over 40 years old, "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" is still a wonderful movie which has something for everyone. The brilliant storyline, the childlike imagination, glorious sets as well as catchy tunes all make it such a memorable movie. But it is the performance of Gene Wilder which makes it the great movie that it is and for me the better version of the story.