Updated: Jul 25
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Gene Wilder is the iconic Willy Wonka, who welcomes the five Golden Ticket winners to his chocolate factory.
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“WILLY WONKA & The CHOCOLATE FACTORY”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital copy; 1971; G for everyone; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: A documentary “Pure Imagination: The Story of ‘Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory”
WELSH AUTHOR Roald Dahl’s well-known 1964 children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which he adapted into movie favorite “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory,” has finally arrived on 4K Ultra HD for its 50th anniversary.
Since its premiere in the summer of 1971, “Willy Wonka” has captivated audiences as young as Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) and as old as Charlie’s Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson). After discovering a Golden Ticket in a Wonka chocolate bar, Charlie and Grandpa Joe join four other children and their parents, all hoping to win the keys to Wonka’s magical kingdom, where just about everything is scrumptious and edible. But like so many children’s stories, “Willie Wonka” has a dark side like in Grimm Brothers’ “Hansel and Gretel,” Pleasure Island in “Pinocchio,” and Oz in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said “Willie Wonka,” starring Gene Wilder, is one of the best of its sort since ‘Oz’ in his original review. “It’s everything that family movies usually claim to be, but aren’t: Delightful, funny, scary, exciting, and, most of all, a genuine work of imagination.”
(1) “Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” opened in New York City on June 30, 1971. (2-4) After school students race to Bill’s Candy Shop to buy their favorites. The owner (Aubrey Woods) sings “The Candy Man,” which became a hit song for entertainer Sammy Davis Jr.
The author’s own childhood was full of mischief and cleverness, much like the fictional characters in his 19 children’s books We’ve seen adaptations of “Matilda,” “The BFG,” “The Witches” and “James and Giant Peach,” whose young characters conspire against adults. Dahl and his buddies once placed a dead mouse in a jar of jawbreakers at a candy shop; then Dahl put goat excrement into his sister’s fiancé’s pipe. To curtail his conduct, his parents sent him to a boarding school when he turned 13. There he saw fellow students forced to eat soap shavings for snoring in class, and being lashed by a cane for bad conduct.
No wonder Dahl said in a 1990 interview with the London Independent, “Parents and schoolteachers are the enemy.”
“Pure Imagination: The Story of ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” provides a comprehensive look at the making of the children’s classic. Strangely, “Willy Wonka” was financed by the Quaker Oats Company and released in theaters by Paramount Pictures. For decades, Warner Brothers has held ownership, releasing its first five-inch disc in 1997 when the DVD format launched. It continues today with this 4K remastered presentation.
American director Mel Stuart, who previously worked on documentaries for David L. Wolper Productions including the Oscar-nominated “Four Days in November,” chronicling the final days leading to the assassination of JFK, helmed the fantasy musical. He was determined to shoot the film in a location that American audiences wouldn’t recognize, settling on Munich, Germany. “If you look at the picture, you wouldn’t know it’s Munich… and peg it for any time or any place. It’s a fantasy,” he says during the documentary, which he also produced and directed for the film’s 30th anniversary.
Stuart got involved when his 10-year-old daughter Madeleine read Dahl’s book. She told her father, “You ought to make a movie out of it and get Uncle Dave [Wolper] to put up the money for it.” Wolper was doing a TV show at the time involving Quaker Oats, and they were planning to introduce a new candy bar. It became a perfect marriage between merchandise and theater. Quaker spent $3 million and named the candy “Wonka Bar.” But it forced Stuart and Wolper to change the title of the movie to match the bar.
(1&2) After delivering newspapers Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) buys a loaf of bread for his family including his hardworking mother (Diana Sowle) and his four bedridden grandparents. Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) is Charlie’s favorite, who tells stories of Willy Wonka. (3&4) TV anchor Stanley Kael (Stephen Dunne) annouces the first Golden Ticket winner, Augustus Gloop (Michael Böllner) of Duselheim, Germany.
The first-rate cast includes Gene Wilder as the iconic Willy Wonka, the “compulsively distrustful chocolate manufacturer,” says Ebert. Wilder demanded Wonka walk with a limp and use a cane when he first appears on screen, or he would reject the role. “Because no one will know from that time on whether I’m lying or telling the truth,” he said. “I meant it, too, because it was a tricky part.”
Sixth-grader Peter Ostrum of Texas auditioned for the role of Charlie Bucket, reading from the book since the script wasn’t finished. His screen test was in New York City and, once he got the role, he packed up and headed to Germany for five months of filming. “He was such a sweet, gentle fellow,” says Wilder. “And, then I had to be so cruel to him towards the end of the picture. You see what was going on in Willy Wonka’s mind all this time trying to find one honest boy who could stand up to all the temptations … It’s a great tale.” Today, Ostrum is a veterinarian in Upstate New York, where he cares for dogs, cats and horses.
The director gives a big salute to art director Harper Goff, who he considers one of the reasons for the film’s success. “Somehow, he got a [chocolate] river in there and the waterfall to work and he just designed this fantasy land,” says Stuart. Young German actor Michael Böllner plays Augustus Gloop, one of the four other Golden Ticket winners. He responded to an audition advertisement in a German newspaper. “He couldn’t speak English, but he looked the part,” says Stuart. “He was so good-natured when we threw him into the river and put him up the chute.”
The three remaining Golden Ticket child actors included: Julie Dawn Cole as Veruca Salt, Paris Themmen as Mike Teevee and the late Denise Nickerson as Violet “Blueberry” Beauregarde. They joined Böllner and Ostrum for a lively, down-memory-lane commentary recorded in 2001, also available on the 4K disc. And, we can’t forget the singing Oompa-Loompa factory workers, nine small actors hired from England and Turkey to play the film’s Greek chorus.
Oompa loompa doompety doo I’ve got a perfect puzzle for you. Oompa loompa doompety dee If you are wise you'll listen to me.
What do you get when you guzzle down sweets Eating as much as an elephant eats? What are you at, getting terribly fat What do you think will come of that? I don't like the look of it!
Oompa loompa doompety da, If you’re not greedy, you will go far. You will live in happiness, too, Like the Oompa Loompa Doompety do.
(1&2) British factory owner Mr. Henry Salt (Roy Kinnear) had his workers opening Wonka candy bars for five days until they found the second Golden Ticket for his spoiled daughter Veruca (Julie Dawn Cole). (3) American Mike Teevee (Paris Themman), who constantly watches Westerns on television finds the fourth ticket. (4&5) Charlie opens the chocolate bar and finds the last Golden Ticket.
As they structured the storyline, several music numbers were considered. “I wasn’t nuts about putting music in the picture,” Stuart says. They hired English songwriting partners Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for the songs. Entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., a good friend of Newley’s, wanted to play the singing candy store manager, but Stuart said no. He thought Davis would make the film too “showbiz.” Still, Davis ended up recording “The Candy Man” and it became a smash hit; the tune was nominated for Best Song at the Academy Awards.
The ending of “Willy Wonka” was a stumbling block for Stuart. Dahl’s original script ended with Grandpa Joe saying “Yipee.” “That’s impossible,” the director said. Out of desperation, he called writer David Seltzer, the script rewriter throughout production. But he had already left Germany and was on vacation at a remote lake in Maine. He just happened to be near the only payphone there when it rang. Stuart was frantic; the complete production had come to a halt. Seltzer simply pitched the first thing that popped into his mind, “They all lived happily ever after.” There was silence until Stuart finally said: “Fantastic!”
Warner finally gets the framing and composition right, after it was misaligned on the previous 2009 Blu-ray. Shot on 35mm with an open matte, the aspect ratio from Warner has bounced from 1.33:1 during its VHS and early DVD days to the 1.66:1 European ratio, then 1.78:1 and now the theatrical ratio 1.85:1. Similar varying aspect ratios over the years plagued Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” and “The Shining,” both from Warner and now on 4K.
(1&2) Willy Wonka opens his chocolate factory to the five Golden Ticket winners. (3) The 4K resolution reveals the texture of Wonka’s purple velvet jacket. (4) Winners Veruca Salt, Charlie Bucket, Violet “Blueberry” Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson), and Mike Teevee. (5) The dazzling Willy Wonka Chocolate Room, made of edible sweets.
Not sure if the original camera negative was scanned in 4K or a duplicate negative was used, but overall, there’s a nice 4K mastering uptick in clarity over the previous HD version. It’s most evident in wide shots, always the first place to find added resolution. Everything from foreground to distant objects are tack sharp. The kids' faces are natural, and costume textures are more defined. Only during the few composite shots does the sharpness drop a notch or two. A pleasant shade of natural film grain dances across the screen from top to bottom, and left to right as it should.
HDR10 and Dolby Vision toning provides a richer balance of facial colors and an overall warmer palette, while the expanded contrast levels give the onscreen image more pop, with brighter highlights, deeper blacks, and controlled mid-tones. You won’t be disappointed.
The 4K disc features a new six-channel DTS-HD MA soundtrack, while the previous Blu-ray delivers on a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track. You won’t hear any difference with the mostly front-designed sound adding the effects around the room. Musical numbers are clear and full of high-fidelity. The 4K digital version is coded with the slightly lesser Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 soundtrack.
As a life lesson “Willy Wonka” is a cautionary tale of greed and vanity, but for children who have true and honest hearts, “They live happily ever after.”
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) The Oompa-Loompas men sing as they work. Willy Wonka rescued them from the bleak Loompaland. (2) Veruca Salt sings “I Want it Now!”