Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory - 1971
Director(s): Mel Stuart
Writer(s): Roald Dahl and David Seltzer (screenplay) / Roald Dahl (book)
Cinematography by: Arthur Ibbetson
Editor(s): David Saxon
Cast: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum, Roy Kinnear and Julie Dawn Cole
Synopsis: Down on his luck, Charlie Bucket receives a Golden Ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory with four other children who also won the contest.
This review marks my 200th entry into my movie blog and like my 100th (Back to the Future), I decided to tackle I movie close to my heart. I remember watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when I was around ten-years-old. I gravitated towards the colors, the up-beat songs, the candy, the wonder and the physical comedy. Now, watching it as an “adult” I’m blown away by the creativity, the hilariously sarcastic comedic tone and by Gene Wilder’s performance. So, this review will be my attempt to showcase how I have come to love this movie, without relying on nostalgia like many of us do for movies we loved as kids.
The story is something kids and adults can connect too. As a kid, you watch this poor kid go from eating cabbage soup to being inside this magical factory where unlimited amount of sweets are at his disposal. The ultimate ginger bread house, since almost everything is edible and nobody is going to tell you that you should stop eating candy. But as an adult you connect to the desire of being magically lifted from your current situation. A once-in-a-lifetime contest that will fix everything that is wrong in your life. You can take care of your mom and grandparents by winning this contest and provide the life they deserve. Why else would we play the lotto and the Powerball knowing that the odds are eternally against us. Charlie is also the ultimate underdog story, and it’s human nature to root for the underdog.
Quick note: Roald Dahl hated the movie because it didn’t focus as much on Charlie as his original novel did. Many re-writes were done to his script for it to focus more around Wonka. This is because Quaker Oats wanted a character that they could build a candy line around. Fun fact.
The physical comedy is a huge aspect to the movies success, especially in the way the kids competing against Charlie are “disposed” of. As a kid, I found it hilarious watching Augustus sucked through a tube after falling in the river of chocolate, or watching Violet turn into a huge blueberry and the Loompas roll her out of the room. My favorite is Veruca demanding to have one of the geese that lay golden eggs because, one, it includes a solid song, and two, it’s a lesson for both the kid and the father. Not always giving them everything, teaching them the value of a dollar and being grateful for what you have. As an adult, yes, I still find it funny, but you see how Wonka designed these “tests” to weed-out the bad kids. How they are a play on their gluttony, their self-obsession, their greed and their lack of respect for rules and their elders.
The music is fantastic, both the score and the songs designed for the characters, with the clear-cut stand out being “Pure Imagination”. There are very few theme songs that are instantly recognized like this one. The movie opens with this theme song and you are instantly transported to a world of wonder and excitement. It also helps that the song is sung by Gene Wilder as he is going down the stairs to his chocolate room.
Now that I mentioned Gene, I might as well talk about Gene. I mean, can I truly say anything “new” about Gene Wilder? I tried to some extent in my Young Frankenstein review and I think I failed, but this time around I’m just going to talk. Well, write. His performance went well above my head when I was a kid. Yes, he was one of my favorite aspects of the movie. He is upbeat and colorful - especially thanks to the amazing wardrobe design - and a wonderful singer, but his sarcasm was missed by my child mind. I can’t think of any other performance that heavily relied on the audience understanding that 99.9% of what his character is saying is drenched in sarcasm. The one line that always kills me is when they are watching Augustus stuck in the tube. Everyone is freaking out and the camera cuts to Gene and with his eyes filled with joy he sarcastically says, “The suspense is terrible... I hope it'll last.”. I just love everything that Gene did with this character, from his tone of voice to his body language to the pure joy of being a kid in a candy factory.
Quick note: Gene also helped re-write and alter many aspects of both the movie and the character. One of his biggest contributions was the character introduction. He wanted Wonka to come out faking a limp and revealing the lie through a front somersault. That way, the audience will always wonder if he is lying again.
Willy Wonka is truly one of my favorite movies of all time. Visually creative and inviting, no matter at what age you view it you can’t deny the spectacle that is the world Wonka created. The songs, the crazy contraptions and the Oompa Loompas all add up to, well, pure imagination. It’s crazy to think that the main reason this movie was greenlit was so that Quaker could have a candy line to promote. Nobody thought that this movie would eventually become one of the all-time best. One of the biggest reasons why this material is elevated is Gene Wilder’s performance and everything he added to the script. I re-visit this movie at least twice a year and I always walk away with a new level of appreciation. Gene Wilder is why I love movies.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is currently playing on Netflix. Watch it. Love it.
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