Alice had her Wonderland. Dorothy found her Oz. And Charlie — in 1971 — has his chocolate factory.
Though “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” will not reach the proportions of “The Wizard of Oz” as a cinematic classic, it strikes me that word-of-mouth discussions of this, well-produced half-satire, half-fantasy could make it a periodic revival staple.
The new film at the Palms has much going for it. A tender performance by young Peter Ostrum as Charlie. A magnetic, sly and curious portrayal by Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. Arresting sets and effects. A not-always-sugary, sometimes bitter script, but in keeping with the more candid, honest approach to children today.
Scripter Roald Dahl, who wrote the book under the title of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (Willy Wonka honks better box office, apparently), has authored some pretty macabre fiction in the past.
But this children’s story — which some adults should see, perhaps to gain some insight into negative character areas they failed to shed in the tender years — barely touches the macabre. Yet undertones are there.
Not that the punished kids don’t deserve it. It is weird and intriguing, yet, I must admit, it will confuse some youngsters.
The smart ones, of course, will ride with the puzzle of kindly Wonka’s semi-sadism and dig the nitty-gritty. Sincerity, honor and honesty may not win you the chocolate factory of your dreams, as in Charlie’s case, but it’ll enable you to stay well ahead in the game of life.
There are five golden tickets in a worldwide search of Willy Wonka candy bars. Finders get to tour his fabled factory. Charlie lucks out to find one, then lucks out to inherit it when each of the other four kids proves to be gluttonous, disobedient and selfish.
Wilder, who first reached filmgoers via his screamingly funny scene as a kidnapped yokel in “Bonnie and Clyde” and followed with a sharp comedy etching in “The Producers,” is nigh flawless in the strange Wonka characterization.
The Anthony Newley-Leslie Bricusse songs have thin lyrics, and do little to enhance the production but the brightly-colored candy coated sets and the dazzling special effects might rate attention when nomination time comes around for those two categories.