The Front Row View: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

The Front Row View is a regular column by Great Stories contributor Jim Cannizzaro.  He is a veteran community theater leading man, seasoned blogger, movie enthusiast, and family man.

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In honor of the opening this weekend of Flint Farm’s ice cream stand (one of our favorite haunts, just minutes from where we live), I’m paying tribute to everyone’s favorite sweet treat movie. Mel Stuart’s 1971 musical Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory offers Gene Wilder as the titular confectionary genius. He offers a free tour of his chocolate factory for five lucky children who can find a golden ticket hidden inside of his famous candy bars. Roald Dahl adapted his ingenious book with his trademark sinister humor and bizarre characters (so glad they kept the “rowers” poem!). A group of skillful child actors play the spoiled brats on the tour (with the standout being Julie Dawn Cole as future band name Veruca Salt), Peter Ostrum, in his first and only movie, offered a warm and appealing performance as Charlie (Ostrum later became a veterinarian), and Jack Albertson is perfection as Grampa Joe (love his song and dance to “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket”—pretty limber for an old dude whose been bedridden for 20 years!). The can’t get-’em-outta-your-head songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, the colorful sets and cinematography and the brisk pacing wouldn’t mean a thing without the effectiveness of it’s star. This movie offers the perfect match of actor and role in Wilder’s performance as Wonka. Can you name a performer as brilliantly eccentric as Wilder? He combines befuddlement and charm with a fatherly way about him at the end—but somehow remains mysterious enough that I never trust him! The movie was financed by Quaker Oats, hoping to compete with the Disney films. It’s box office was disappointing, but with the help of television viewings and home video over the years, it’s become a classic. If this isn’t the perfect movie to watch with your family, then I’m a Vermicious Knid! Also worth a look—Tim Burton’s 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

-Jim

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