Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Willy Wonka" is sweet fantasy

Cleveland Press June 30, 1971

There's this chocolate factory with the locked gate and as Charlie looks through it an old man says mysteriously that "Nobody ever goes in; nobody ever comes out."

But inside it is more of a magical land than factory with a river of chocolate fed by chocolate waterfall, in which lollipops grow out of the ground and trees are hung with sugarplums.

The workers are round, four-foot high creatures with orange faces and green hair and they are known as Oompa-Loompas. Oompa-Loompas used to live in Loompaland until they had to escape from the fearsome hornswogglers, snozzwangers and vermicious knids.

"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" is a non-Disney movie that out Disneys Disney.It has a higher degree of imagination going for it than similar films, and while it sounds overly sugary the story and some of the characters have a bite to them that will keep you from going into insulin shock.

"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" is adapted from Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" with author Dahl writing his own screenplay.

Dahl and the moviemakers have tried to keep the movie working on several levels -- satire for the adults, fantasy for the kids (or maybe the other way around) and music for everyone.

The music level is the one at which it works least well. Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley have provided an all-purpose score that is pleasant without being catchy or memorable.

The story has the mysterious Willy Wonka opening up his chocolate factory to the five children who find the gold tickets hidden in Wonka Bars. The world goes crazy, and there is a run on Wonka Bars. Some of the best of the wit and the satire is displayed in small bits as the search for the tickets is depicted.

The first four tickets are won by brats -- a gum chewer, a glutton, a nonstop TV watcher and a pampered rich kid.

But the movie has followed the adventures of poor but honest lad who sells papers after school to help his widowed mother support his four bed-ridden grandparents. That's Charlie, and the plot allows the suspense to build before the inevitable happens.

Each child takes one parent with him and Charlie takes his favorite grandfather, who leaps out of bed and starts walking again.

The film achieves a degree of bite and menace from the character of Willie Wonka himself played with a sly relish by Gene Wilder. Willy is not exactly lovable. He can be stern and whimsical by turns and he clearly tempts the children in their various weaknesses in order to punish them.

So along the way there are lessons to be learned about gluttony and watching too much television and such. One bothersome point -- Charlie also breaks one of the rules, but his infraction doesn't get him banished as it does the others.

The movie has been well cast with Jack Albertson as the spry grandfather and Cleveland's Peter Ostrum as the likable kid.The lad manages the part without being over-sweet or maudlin.

And because "Willy Wonka" has a little bit of villainy (at least implied) and mystery it may go over better with audiences generally -- young or old.