The story of luckless Charlie who miraculously finds the last golden ticket in a chocolate bar, the chance to tour the mysterious chocolate factory belonging to the equally bizarre Willy Wonka. Alongside a group of other children, each with one guardian, Charlie will discover a world beyond his dreams.
Roald Dahl’s immaculate morality tale is gloriously realised in this colourful fantasy with decent songs. It even manages to add to the original book, successfully giving the script a more movie-like dynamic in the addition of sinister Oslo Slugworth (Gunter Meisner) who might be manipulating events from the outside. But from tip to toe Mel Stuart turns Dahl’s delicious fable into glowing cinema.
Surprisingly, Gene Wilder proves perfectly cast as the weird combination of the avuncular and the eccentric in Willy Wonka, just adding a layer of sinister to his aloof mad-inventor routine. Peter Ostrum’s Charlie is rightly goody-goody but not mawkish, and across the troupe of brats and parental disasters everyone fits the bill of these gross creations. And those orange-skinned slave-imps the Oompa Loompas serve up all Dahl’s witty warnings of the wages of naughtiness as magnificently choreographed tick-tock nursery-songs.
All this though pales in the face of Harper Goff’s art direction. With the exteriors filmed in a fairy-tale Germany, the factory is a childhood fantasy turned madhouse, a trippy, sensuous micro-world that mixes temptation with moral burden that each winner will learn to their peril. Imagine room upon room where everything is edible, where rivers runs with chocolate milk, secret formulas are concocted for everlasting gobstoppers and golden geese lay chocolate eggs, all Dahl’s genius is recreated in a primary coloured sheen like a giant sweet shop conjured up on LSD. The life lessons could be construed as trite, but with Anthony Newly and Leslie Bricusse’s chirpy songs and the dark stabs of humour, even teasing feints of child torture, it never drifts too far into the sentimental. And better than Tim Burton’s soppy rerun.
The 1971 version of Roald Dahl's immortal, sugar-coated morality play finds Gene Wilder as disturbing and fault-ridden but compelling as the book described. Okay, so its pacing may be slightly off (taking nearly 40 minutes to arrive at the factory gates), but this is still a Golden Ticket if ever there was one.