Long before Johnny Depp ever entered that chocolate factory with the silliest haircut in town, Gene Wilder had already led a bunch of brats to their untimely, chocolatey demise. And as much as I enjoyed Tim Burton's modern take on Roald Dahl's timeless story, this original version is simply unbeatable.
While not completely faithful to the book, Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory still ticks all the right boxes and captures the spirit of the story perfectly whereas the later re-imagining lacked genuine charm, which this one has tons of. Charlie is played by a geeky but convincing Peter Ostrum who manages to break your heart more than once over the course of the film. Gene Wilder, of course, is Willy Wonka and steals the show effortlessly right from under everyone's noses. From the get-go he is the character and you can't wait to go on this surreal adventure with him. He even gets a song which, his singing voice being... what it is, isn't too vocally impressive but still manages to be instantly charming and iconic. Wilder is basically too good in this movie and can do no wrong as Wonka. The kids are a fun bunch and are appropriately odious but in a light-hearted way so you don't hate them too much yet feel somewhat relieved when they kick the bucket.
All the classic moments you expect are there: the grandparents all sharing one giant bed, the hunt for the golden ticket, the chocolate river, the blueberry, Wonkavision and those fantastic Oompa Loompas whose little tunes, once uttered, will NEVER leave your head. Sadly no squirrels, no "squares that look round" but instead we get Easter egg-making geese and a weird, dated scene involving fizzy lifting drinks (never cared much for that bit myself, if I'm honest). Oh and of course that infamous scary tunnel sequence!
God I LOVE that scene.
What. The hell. Were they thinking?!
I mean, I could see Wonka doing that, taking these guys on a crazy boat ride and freaking everyone out but the images displayed on that tunnel's walls are grim! You've got millipedes crawling on people's faces, a chicken's head getting cut off... jeesh! Add to that a demented Wilder yelling rhymes before flat out screaming and you've just given your kids their nightmare for the next few months. Also, you've given me one of the funniest things ever, thank you.
Even Tim Burton couldn't beat that shit!
The movie is also a full-on musical so if that's not your thing then you might want to think twice about signing up to this version. Then again, the songs are really good and catchy as hell (even the more low-key ones), they're not all necessary but each of them adds charm and texture to the proceedings. Great score as well. Though I'm kinda pissed with that "Candyman": the guy spends a whole song giving out free candy then bugs Charlie about paying for a measly Wonka bar? What a douche.
All in all, is this version better than the Depp-starring remake?
Yes. Just yes.
The movie captures the mischievous spirit of Dahl's book really well and does so in its own unique way. It's a terrific musical, a hugely entertaining, heart-warming and funny film and a true classic. It's been criticised for being a bit too sweet at times but hey, that scene at the end where Wonka yells at Charlie and that scary tunnel scene I'm pretty sure balance things out so lay off! Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory is a must-watch for kids, adults and whangdoodles alike.
Frankly, Wilder alone is worth it.