Classic Review: “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971)

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - posterDirector: Mel Stuart

Script: Roald Dahl and David Seltzer

Based on: Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Cast: Peter Ostrum, Jack Albertson, Gene Wilder, Julie Dawn Cole, Roy Kinnear,…



A penniless boy called Charlie dreams of meeting the legendary Willy Wonka and his famous Chocolate Factory. When five lucky subjects are invited through a contest to do just that, the young boy gets to go on a unique ride, and finally has the chance to receive an once-in-a-lifetime prize he could never imagine.


Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Have you ever heard so many good things about a film that you –ironically- put off watching it, and then, when you actually do, it completely surprises you? Luckily for me, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is one of such films.

After the book-to-screen adaptation created by Tim BurtonCharlie and the Chocolate Factory– premiered in 2005, I remember being surprised at the amount of animosity the film received. It wasn’t a perfect flick, yet I had enjoyed it. I’d loved some of the characters, the stunning appearance, and even the music. Yet I remember reading over and over mentions of a previous adaptation from Dahl’s iconic book which seemed to have quite a following.

However, refusing to spoil my experience with Burton’s movie, I postponed watching the musical –even after finding out that Gene Wilder played the title role- and it wasn’t until this year when I actually took the time to watch the film -and boy did I enjoyed it!

Charlie and Willy Wonka

classic-review-willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-01The film focuses from the start on the character of Charlie, played by young Peter Ostrum, who manages to infuse so much charm and sweetness to the role, it’s hard not to root for him throughout the progression of the narrative. Ostrum’s character is human and honest. He can be innocent and naïve, yet also petty and imperfect, and thus he becomes much more relatable. Throughout Act 1 you’ll find yourself wanting to see him win the golden ticket, and, luckily, he does.

It’s a shame Ostrum decided not to continue with his acting career, since he gave such a wonderful performance in the movie. Would he have managed to be as enchanting after growing up? We’ll never know!

classic-review-willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-02Charlie’s counterpart is the legendary Willy Wonka, played by a lively and enigmatic Gene Wilder, who seems to have enjoyed himself quite a lot with this role. Yet, don’t be fooled by the title: although the film has ´Willy Wonka´ in the title, it concentrates almost entirely on Charlie.

The origins of Willy Wonka and his factory are unclear, yet in the diegetic world of the film these aspects seem to add positively to the mystery, making the character and his workplace much more attractive and bizarre.

Although the relationship between Charlie and Willy Wonka is almost nonexistent during the first two acts, it does come to a wonderful and heartwarming resolution at the very end, as Wonka takes the role of protector and guide for the boy.

classic-review-willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-05Curiously, father figures seem to be either absent or completely inadequate in the film, as one grandfather is too sick to have much of a relationship with the boy (Ernst Ziegler), the other is too greedy and lazy to be a good role model (Jack Albertson), and Charlie’s father is never seen.

Willy Wonka is not much better. He’s wild and often even intimidating, yet he’s definitely the figure with utmost authority, which he exercises either physically –how many of those children were actually hit with that cane throughout the filming?- or through his proneness to sarcasm and cunning.

In the end, the character who has nothing and the character who has everything must complement each other, since Charlie and Wonka are two sides of the same coin, for the two of them are virtuous dreamers who need one another.

Both characters are fascinating and engaging, a definite plus, since the charm of the movie depends mostly on them.

The story and secondary characters

Roald Dahl’s tale is quite simple, and the movie musical adaptation is not that different. However, the film does add some layers of mystery and humanization which mostly enrich the narrative, yet sometimes manage to detract from the course of the story. An example can be seen during the first act, when the film dwells for too long on complementary tales of background characters which are never again seen, like the man who creates a machine which can guess the location of the golden tickets.

It happens again during certain scenes of the Second Act, such as the moment when Charlie and Grandpa Joe defy Wonka by having some of his newest and forbidden drink. Although the scene serves its purpose by humanizing Charlie, it’s also long and tedious, and doesn’t connect quite fluidly with the next scene –why did no one wonder where Charlie and his Grandpa were?

classic-review-willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-03Another plot point which is never addressed or explained concerns Wonka’s minion, who passes as his archenemy. How did he know who the winners of the tickets would be and where they were? Was the whole result planned? But what about Charlie? How did he know he would find the money or pick the right chocolate bar?

Nevertheless, the construction of the film and the enticing personalities of both children and parents do make up for the lack of answers, and finally manage to distract us from such queries. Every child actor in the film is wonderful, as they embraced their roles with raw honesty and simplicity. It’s a pity, though, that only Veruca got to have a song of her own!

Visuals and sound

Some films don’t age very well when their visual construction is mostly based on what’s popular in the moment they were produced, and, to some extent, that’s the case of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

classic-review-willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-04Although the world created is quite charming, light and realistic, it can also be underwhelming when looked back at from our day and age. Yet, there’s a lovely child-like innocence which permeates places such as Wonka’s room of inventions, which do manage to compensate for the lack of a grandiose structure. Also in its favor, there’s –thankfully- no sign of the aggravating overuse of CGI which often saturates our films.

When it comes to the music, the film has some great songs to offer, as well as some more generic tunes –mostly produced by the Oompa-Loompas- which are equally enjoyable. The Candy Man, Cheer up, Charlie and Pure imagination are certainly the greatest: the first one is happy, light and catchy; while the other two excel at being emotional and enigmatic.

The visuals and the sound of the film complement each other very well creating a delightful, childlike world in which everything seems possible –mainly making your dreams come true.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory will endure as a beloved and popular classic, and, fortunately, I can see why.


What did you think about the film? Loved it? Hated it? Let me know in the comments!


V. Wonka.


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