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Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: Special Edition

In the era of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, it's particularly interesting to look back and see what the world of children's fantasy films looked like a generation ago. If you stop your cinematic time machine at 1971, what you find is a clever, darkly funny story about a boy, a golden ticket, and a fey chocolate maker. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the name was changed from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — the title of the Roald Dahl book the film is based on — thanks to a chocolate marketing deal with Quaker) never did Harry Potter-sized business at the box office, but it still hovers near the top of many people's lists of favorite childhood films. That's because director Mel Stuart didn't shy away from bringing Dahl's unique, slightly twisted vision to the screen intact. From the eerily competent Oompa Loompas to the fates that befall the selfish, greedy children who tour Wonka's mysterious chocolate factory (not to mention that freak-out boat ride), Willy Wonka is faithful to Dahl's book, creating a true world of imagination. Much of the credit for the film's successful interpretation can go to Dahl (he also wrote the screenplay), but the movie wouldn't have become a classic without Gene Wilder's enigmatic, puckish performance as Wonka, the cagey candy man who lets five lucky children into his sugary fortress. The envied golden ticket winners are, of course, the overfed Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), spoiled English brat Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), gum-happy American Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson), tube addict Mike Teavee (Paris Themmen), and sweet, generous Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), a poor boy who lives in the same anywhere-in-Europe town that hosts Wonka's factory. Each child finds more than he or she bargained for in Wonka's funhouse, from the fabulous chocolate room to the consequences of grabbing experimental chewing gum. It's not hard to spot the film's moral — be nice and you'll be happy; be a brat, and you'll get yours — but it's delivered in such a quirky, over-the-top fashion that it's never heavy-handed or overly treacly (considering all the candy in the movie, that's a pretty impressive feat). Warner Home Video's widescreen DVD — released after thousands of fans collectively stamped their feet and said "I want it now!" — does the film proud: The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) has been beautifully restored, and the musical numbers ("Pure Imagination," "I've Got a Golden Ticket," and more) make good use of the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (other audio options include French, Spanish, and Portuguese mono, as well as English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles). The disc comes with plenty of special features, too: four sing-along songs, the trailer, cast and crew credits, a photo gallery, an original 1971 trailer, a fun full-length commentary with all five of the "Wonka kids," and a nice new 30-minute documentary called "Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." It's this last that offers fans what they've really been waiting for: A chance to see the kids from the whimsical world of Wonka all grown-up. Snap-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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