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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that overall Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is an excellent, imaginative family film. While it doesn't have any content that would be considered inappropriate for kids, author Roald Dahl's signature dark humor is evident. There are a few scary/tense scenes that may disturb younger or more sensitive children. Slugworth is a creepy character (who turns out OK in the end). When Wonka takes the kids on a wild boat ride through a tunnel, some icky images appear and the kids on the boat are terrified. All of the ticket-winning kids end up in some kind of peril (some wind up in more dangerous situations than others), but they all turn out safe and sound in the end.
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What's the story?
In WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, reclusive candy mogul Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) comes out of hiding to announce a contest: five golden tickets will be enclosed in candy bars to be sold throughout the world. Those finding the tickets will receive a lifetime supply of chocolate and a tour of his mysterious factory. Impoverished Charlie (Peter Ostrum) finds the fifth ticket, and visits the factory with his beloved Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson). The four other children, who tour the factory with Charlie, suffer colorful fates when their bratty instincts overcome them. Charlie finds himself as the only child remaining at the end of the tour. At first he's denied the grand prize, but when he passes a final test, Wonka rewards him with the biggest prize of all: the chocolate factory.
Is it any good?
Unlike the kind of children's movie that fizzles out, this film actually gets better as it goes along. Unfortunately, scripter Roald Dahl (adapting his book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) devotes nearly the first half of the film to the golden-ticket contest. Though containing a few choice moments (and the hit song "The Candy Man"), this section of the film pales in comparison to the second half, in which Wonka leads us through "a world of pure imagination." The eccentric inventor assumes center stage and the travelers are for the most part creepy, self-centered souls who learn by being punished, not rewarded.
The role of Wonka makes terrific use of Wilder's playfulness and manic energy. Though the film's candy-colored sets may seem a bit primitive when compared to today's computer-generated special effects, it does indeed stand the test of time. Preschoolers will be dazzled by the film's bright color-scheme and broadly-drawn characters but may be frightened by a few scary moments; 5-to 8-year-olds will comprehend the film's message, and respond to the memorable songs and snappy dialogue, but older kids and preteens are this film's ideal audience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the different kids' choices as they go along on the tour in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. What would you do if you were one of the kids? When has being honest been rewarded for you?
Compare this version to the more recent Johnny Depp version. Which do you prefer, and why?
- In theaters: June 30, 1971
- On DVD or streaming: August 28, 2001
- Cast: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum
- Director: Mel Stuart
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Book Characters, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character Strengths: Empathy, Integrity
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
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