Joining the long list of films receiving 4K UHD restorations is the Mel Stuart classic Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as it celebrates its 50th anniversary. Of all author Roald Dahl’s books to receive adaptations, this is the one most remembered, both fondly and with a bit of childish horror, thanks to Peter Ostrum’s kind-hearted Charlie and, in large part, thanks to Gene Wilder’s take on the titular eccentric chocolatier. Though the film has seen multiple releases over its lengthy global run, this edition is the first to possess 4K resolution with high dynamic range. We all know who can sprinkle a sunrise with dew, who can make all your childhood wishes come true: the one and only candy man, Willy Wonka. Thanks to 4K UHD, you can enjoy the classic style with improved visual components that make the adventure feel almost brand new.
After spending years as a recluse, candy maker Willy Wonka (Wilder) sets forth a contest wherein five lucky winners can take a tour of his factory and be gifted with a lifetime supply of chocolate. Amid the five winners is bratty Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson), glutinous Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), violent Mike Tevee (Paris Themmen), and generous Charlie Bucket (Ostrum). Nothing the contest is as it seems, with each child seemingly tested from the moment they won their golden ticket. Does Charlie have what it takes to best Wonka? Or will the recluse close his factory gates once and for all?
I suspect some portion of the child-viewing audience has their own fondness/horror story of watching Willy Wonka. Chances are it involves the boat scene, too. Watching the film as an adult, though, the scene is less terrifying and is more unsettling. The reason for the scene also takes greater shape with an adult’s view, as the boat, and everything else that happens once in the factory, is a means of constantly keeping however many children and their guardians off balance. Much like the dialogue itself, complete with zingers and one-liners that don’t work as well with a child’s perspective, Willy Wonka is most definitely a film that can entertain children with its visual design, imaginative sets, and lovely songs, but is obviously geared toward adults in structure and execution. This 1971 film was a staple for family-gathering growing up, one which I hadn’t revisited in years despite possessing a certain fondness for moments within it. To my absolute surprise, not only is the film shorter than my childhood memory suggested (it’s only 100 minutes), but Wonka doesn’t make an appearance until almost near the hour-mark. This makes sense for Dahl’s original tale, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but for the adaptation by screenwriter David Seltzer (The Omen) and director Stuart, changing the title to Willy Wonka created some confusion in my memory as to how much time Wilder actually spends on screen. To their credit, in my rewatch, I could understand why Wonka appeared to dominate the film as the majority of the beginning is about getting to know Charlie and the other children. This allows Wonka to be a giant character, dominating our attention really, as each child is ceremoniously removed from the factory. The lesson, folks, is that it’s often wise to check one’s cinematic baggage before revisiting something from your childhood, beloved or not. One might find that a film isn’t as long, as tedious, or as unsettling as one may remember.
Something that certainly helps with that fond feeling is the HDR. The opening title sequence features text overtop several sequences of chocolate being made. When I tell you it made me hungry, I mean I sent a text to my absent wife, EoM editor Crystal Davidson, asking her to bring me some Kit Kat minis. They’re no Wonka Scrumdiddlyumptious bar, but they’ll do in a pinch after watching deliciously decadent chocolate being heated, folded, and shaped into treats I couldn’t touch as my television isn’t equipped with Wonkavision (much to my displeasure). To no one’s surprise, the boat sequence is trippier than before, with the darker tones made more realistic while the colors are given a tad more pop. If you thought Wonka looked unsettled before, he’s more intimidating now. Expectedly, the scenes which get the greatest boost all come from within the factory itself, but other scenes do look more natural in presentation and less dated. Take the home of the Buckets, which appears more blue than grey, removing some of the more destitute atmosphere for a peaceful, if not minimal one.
For those hoping for improved sound, this restoration appears to only include DTS-HD MA 5.1 with no enhanced audio via Dolby Digital. Strangely, and again it’s been some time since I’ve seen Willy Wonka, there appeared to be a bit of clipping during some of the songs. It was more noticeable during Aubrey Woods’s “The Candy Man,” but did occur every once in a while during others. It’s a tad disappointing that the audio wasn’t given any special attention to either address this issue or to aid the film in playing on modern home stereo systems. Additionally, the bonus materials on the anniversary edition have all been previously released, allowing for no new treats to mark the occasion. Do take note that the 4K UHD disc only includes the commentary track, while the Blu-ray includes them all. The digital edition contains all the included materials with changes only made based on retailer.
As someone whose owned the DVD for years, the 4K UHD edition is a ginormous step up in quality. Yes, there’s the obvious technological improvement that comes from jumping two generations of physical media, but the film feels markedly brand-new. If you’ve held off on purchasing a Blu-ray edition over the years but own a 4K player, this purchase will feel like a win, especially considering that the release also includes both a Blu-ray and digital copy of the film. You’ll have options when it comes to how to access the film and what features you want. If, however, you already own a recent Blu-ray edition, the inclusion of HDR as the only big addition to the 4K release may not be enough. In that case, if you’ve picked up other restorations/remasters from Warner Bros., trust your instinct. What was fantastic for Full Metal Jacket and Beetlejuice did not play as well for 300. Personally, I’d be on the fence as well since the audio isn’t given any kind of new treatment, but the visual element is so vastly improved that making a recommendation for a pick-up feels safe.
Willy Wonka Special Features
- Commentary with the Wonka Kids
- Pure Imagination: The Story of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
- The Moviemakers
- Scrumptious Sing-Along: Pure Imagination
- Scrumptious Sing-Along: I Want It Now!
- Scrumptious Sing-Along: I’ve Got A Golden Ticket
- Scrumptious Sing-Along: Oompa-Loompa-Doompa-De-Do
- Theatrical Trailer
Available on 4K UHD June 29th, 2021.
For more information, head to Warner Bros.’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory website.