#93 Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory
(1971, Mel Stuart)
“There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination”
I was a huge fan of Roald Dahl as a child. It’s probably through obsessively reading his books as a child that I developed such a warped opinion on the world, quite frankly. So naturally, this movie, based on the first and most popular of his many novels, was also a childhood favourite. But am I viewing the movie through rose-tinted nostalgia glasses or was Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory a genuine children’s classic?
Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum in his only movie role) is a child from a poor family. He shares a house with his mother and his four bed-ridden grandparents. He loves chocolate, but he only gets to eat it on his birthday due to the family’s lack of finances. But then he gets the chance to visit the factory of near-mythical chocolate maker Willy Wonka when he finds one of five golden tickets hidden in Wonka bars.
Ostensibly a musical crossed with a black comedy, this is far from your average children’s movie. Underneath the colourful sets and cheerful music numbers lies a slightly twisted sense of humour. Since this is based on a Roald Dahl story, this is to be expected, but it seems to have been taken further by director Mel Stuart.
One thing I always say about family movies is that they’re good if they appeal to the entire family, and not just children. Of course, some too many attempts to add jokes for the parents can go wrong – see the Shrek series as a major example – Willy Wonka gets the balance right. Two jokes in particular stand out: the first is when Mr Teevee tells his son he can’t get a Colt .45 until he’s 12, and the second is when a computer technician says “I’m telling the computer exactly what it can do with a lifetime supply of chocolate.” Both jokes are subtle enough for the kids in the audience to miss, but the adults will erupt in laughter from the subtle adult humour hidden within.
Of course, the key element to making this movie so entertaining is Gene Wilder as the titular Wonka. He plays him as a charming yet devious man who loves nothing more than to chew scenery, both in a figurative and a literal sense. The scene in the Inventing Room where he leaps from machine to machine making puns and quoting old literature is incredibly entertaining. Even terrible jokes like adding shoes to a mixture “to give it a little kick” are made hilarious through Wilder’s delivery. His performance in the infamously creepy tunnel scene is also pretty terrifying.
The movie is not without its flaws. Some of the musical sequences are more intrusive than they should be. The Oompa Loompa sequences are an exception, since they’re ridiculously catchy and carry the same dark wit as the rest of the movie, but songs like “Cheer Up Charlie” feel out of place. Re-watching the movie now, I realised I’d actually forgotten the existence of that part entirely.
The first part of the movie is also less interesting than the tour section of the movie, and while it does have some very entertaining moments, the whole movie just feels like it’s trying to get the pre-factory sequence out of the way as quickly as possible. As such, there’s not really much development with Charlie, unlike in the book.
But Willy Wonka is certainly a good movie, and definitely one of the best children’s movies out there, even today. It’s a little rough around the edges, but it’s charming, and it dares to have a darker side too.
Starring Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson & Peter Ostrum
Written by Roald Dahl
Produced by David L. Wolper & Stan Marguiles
Music by Anthony Newley & Leslie Bricusse
Cinematography by Arthur Ibbetson
Edited by David Saxon
Favourite Scene: The Inventing Room. Gene Wilder is on fire here, and is the source of the Condescending Wonka Internet meme.
Scene That Bugged Me: “Cheer Up Charlie” – such a forgettable part of the movie, and a highly bland song to boot
Watch it if: You want a fun family musical
Avoid it if: Orange midgets horrify you