[Fresh on 4K] ‘WILLY WONKA’ turns 50 — Is its quality as everlasting as a gobstopper?

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)

Rated G, 100 minutes.
Director: Mel Stuart
Cast: Gene Wilder, Peter Ostrum, Jack Albertson, Julie Dawn Cole, Denise Nickerson, Paris Themmen, Michael Bollner, Roy Kinnear, Leonard Stone, Nora Denney, Ursula Reit and Günter Meisner

Now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital HD.

Ready to feel old? WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and is now available in 4K UHD for the first time to commemorate such a milestone.

But is the cult classic still as sweet as ever, or has it gone sour? As it turns out, a little bit of both – and for some, that may be just right.

Movie Grade: B+

WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is a strange film. For those who have not seen it, the story revolves around a young boy named Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), one of the five lucky children who finds a golden ticket inside a Wonka chocolate bar wrapper. Finding one of these legendary tickets entitles the finder and one family member to take a tour of Willy Wonka’s (Gene Wilder) chocolate factory which has been closed off to the public for years, as well as a lifetime supply of chocolate. Of the five children to find a ticket, Charlie is the only remotely good person of the bunch. The other four children are each products of terrible parenting and ultimately receive nightmare-inducing punishments for being so awful while on the factory tour.

Wilder is, of course, at the peak of his comedic genius in his performance as Willy Wonka. He constantly walks the thin line of a generous candy-loving billionaire and a clinically insane sociopath who inexplicably can run the most successful candy company in existence with impeccable ease. Ostrum is perfectly fine as Charlie, while the other child actors are much more hit-and-miss, with the standout being Julie Dawn Cole as the spoiled rotten Veruca Salt.

Ultimately, WONKA is a product of its time. Some regard it as an irrefutable classic, while others may be put off by the frequent moments where it feels the film goes out of its way to make the viewer uncomfortable. Its messages about what happens to naughty children with lousy parents can feel a tad simplistic at times, but younger viewers are sure to enjoy what it has to offer.

Courtesy of Blu-ray.com

Video/Audio: B-

The film is presented in native 4K resolution and, for the most part, looks about as good as it can, given its age. Plenty of film grain is still present, so while purists will be pleased to hear of its presence, others may still walk away feeling like they just watched an “old” movie. Grain aside, there is still plenty of added detail, thanks to the higher resolution. Details such as individual strands of hair on Grandpa Joe’s head are astonishingly clear, but this is to be expected on the format at this point. However, there are times when the added clarity can reveal literal cracks in the image.

One key example of this is during Wonka’s “Pure Imagination” musical number, where he pierces a giant mushroom with his cane and begins to use it as an umbrella. Little bits of styrofoam flutter from the mushroom, and we’re able to clearly see holes from previous takes at the base of the mushroom, thus completely shattering the illusion and reminding the audience that they are watching a film with actors and sets and props. Additionally, moments featuring the pre-computer-generated era of filmmaking are painfully choppy. The sequence where Charlie and Grandpa Joe float towards a slowly moving ceiling fan is perfectly fine until we see a rotoscoped shot that likely looked way less obvious on lower resolutions.

However, these are minor gripes over issues that others could easily perceive as charming. One undeniable improvement with this release is that it is finally presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio rather than the 1.78:1 that all previous releases have maintained. This means that the viewer can now see more of the left and right side of the picture and witness the film the way it was presented in theaters. This alone should be all the reason needed for fans to pick up the 4K release.

The inclusion of HDR10 certainly makes the colorful scenes inside the factory pop more than before, but don’t go in expecting anything truly mind-blowing. The most notable distinction from the increased color pallet are the clearer whites and darker blacks that feel more washed out in other versions of the film.

On the audio front, things are a little less impressive. The disc features a DTS-HD 5.1 mix that is perfectly fine but rarely takes advantage of the surrounding channels outside of some set pieces in the factory, like the (nightmare-inducing) river tunnel and the aforementioned soda room. Dialogue is frequently accompanied by the telltale echo and distortion that comes with older films, but in spite of this is still as clear as one could hope.

Extras Grade: C

There are no special features included on the 4K disc, and the included 1080p Blu-ray only contains bonus material from previous releases. Those hoping to see a new featurette perhaps commemorating the film’s legacy or its 50th anniversary, will be disappointed.

Final Grade : B-

While the relatively impressive visual clarity and somewhat disappointing audio mix may be a turnoff for some, the fact that viewers can now own the film in its original aspect ratio should make this an easy decision for film collectors. That being said, home theater enthusiasts looking for the next reference quality release to show off their fancy setup are best to keep on looking.

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