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Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)

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Album Review

The CD version of the soundtrack to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory issued in conjunction with the 25th anniversary re-release of the movie is a somewhat uneven presentation of a very good musical score. The movie's producers were trying for a musical along the lines of Mary Poppins or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, that is, something that could appeal to children but not bore adults, and vice versa, depending upon how one approached it. They got more than they bargained for — almost too much, in terms of its appeal at the time — in an immensely tuneful score by Leslie Bricusse with delightful fantasy-laced lyrics by Anthony Newley, wrapped up in a film that appealed to the more worldly perceptions of children, and to parents who recalled that side of themselves. But that wasn't close to all parents at the time, many of whom were so appalled by the nasty edge to the story and screenplay that they failed to grasp the score's beauty or the ultimately satisfying conclusion to the movie; but over time, audiences caught up to the movie, and today it's widely regarded as a classic, and may well be the last successful live-action musical created specifically for cinema and aimed at kids (or, at least, the last not to come from Disney); and the fact that it was so far ahead of its time in 1971 has resulted in its seeming far less dated today than a 1971 movie would normally have a right to. This CD tries to treat the score as it has deserved, giving a nicely, brightly mastered account of such songs as "The Candy Man," "Cheer Up, Charlie," and "I Want It Now/Oompa Loompa," and such jaunty instrumental pieces as "Lucky Charlie" (with its vaguely Irish lilt). The movie also got a superb musical turn out of Jack Albertson ("I've Got a Golden Ticket"), working in the mode of Albert Sharpe. And then there's "Pure Imagination," as sung by Gene Wilder — to be sure, Julie Budd and others sing it better on any technical level one might care to cite, but there is something beguiling about the non-singer Wilder working his way through those lyrics and the melody. Not everything about the CD is perfect, however — the score itself is a little short, containing only about 30 minutes of music; the rest of the running time involves linking dialogue and sound effects. Most of what's here is rewarding when the makers stick to music — the problem is that some of the tracks aren't much more than arrays of sound effects, with "Everlasting Gobstoppers/Oompa Loompa" coming off a lot like outtakes from any early-'70s Pink Floyd album. Other tracks, such as "The Wondrous Boat Ride," just get by, offering mixing music and effects; while others, such as "The Bubble Machine," might've worked better without the sound effects. And one track, "Wonkamobile, Wonkavision/Oompa Loompa," offers so little music that its presence — apart from the Oompa Loompa song in the last third — is a complete cheat to extend the running time. But it ends on a musical high point with the gorgeous, wistful finale, and is easily worthwhile for devoted fans of the composers or the movie.

Biography

Born: 24 September 1931 in London, England

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Anthony Newley was one of entertainment's genuine triple threats: an actor, singer, and composer with an international following, equally adept and prodigious in all three fields. Moreover, he enjoyed success as a performer in such seemingly mutually exclusive fields as rock & roll and the legitimate stage. And even more improbably, he did it with a working-class Cockney persona that should never have found much...
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