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Why I Love Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Mr. Willy Wonka
SPOILER ALERT: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS ABOUT THE 1971 FILM WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY!!!
Since I was very young, I don’t remember how young, Mel Stuart’s iconic film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory has been my number one favourite. For years it has topped favourites lists all over the world. While watching it recently I was inspired to write this hub extolling it’s many virtues.
Though these virtues are in no particular order, one of my favourite things about this movie is Gene Wilder. His portrayal of Willy Wonka is absolutely brilliant. I love his version of Roald Dahl’s dry-witted father figure. I recently learned that the limp-and-somersault act that introduced viewers to the “candy-man” was his idea.
In 1971 when he was offered the title role if Willy Wonka Gene Wilder was originally hesitant. Finally (fortunately for posterity) he accepted it, but under one condition:
“When I make my first entrance, I'd like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp. After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet. As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I'm walking on and stands straight up, by itself... but I keep on walking, until I realize that I no longer have my cane. I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.”
When asked why he demanded such an entrance Wilder said, “because from that time on, no one will know if I'm lying or telling the truth.” And in that simple request he created the foundation for an iconic and complex character.
Mr. Turkentine, played by David Battley is one of my favourite characters in this movie. His screen time is pretty minimal, but the few lines he has are absolutely hilarious. Among my favourites are:
“I've just decided to switch our Friday schedule to Monday, which means that the test we take each Friday on what we learned during the week will now take place on Monday before we've learned it. But since today is Tuesday, it doesn't matter in the slightest.”
The way he delivers the lines are hilarious. I have a bad habit of constantly quoting movies and TV shows I’ve seen, and my husband has heard Mr. Turkentine’s lines over and over again, and somehow he still laughs every time. The man is hilarious. If you’re having a hard time remembering him watch the movie again. The quote above is only one of the many memorable ones.
The scenes demonstrating how “wonkamania” is sweeping the globe
From the sweaty man who has created artificial intelligence but faces unimpressed investors whose only interest is the whereabouts of Wonka’s golden tickets to the wealthy woman who can’t decide between her husband’s life or a box of Wonka bars these scenes of excess are brilliant allegories for our western obsession with meaningless things. Dahl and Stuart put these scenes together beautifully and it’s too bad how often it’s overlooked when this film is called a children’s movie.
On a side note, it being called a children’s movie is interesting considering that when it first came out it bombed at the box office because it was considered a moral story too cruel for children to understand.
The boat ride
The scene where Wonka takes his guests on the Wonkatania and sings a terrifying song while stomach-turning images are flashing all around them, including a chicken being beheaded and a centipede crawling over someone’s face is disturbing in a strangely organic way.
I’ve never done acid but this scene seems to me to be how I would imagine what an acid trip is like. And it was done with very few effects at the filmmaker’s disposal. All it is is odd lighting, a great performance and a few grisly pictures in the background yet somehow it’s completely disturbing.
It makes me think of the introduction of a monster using just two notes in Jaws. Sometimes people just strike gold I guess.
No resolution for the other children
I’m not sure why but I always liked the fact that the scene from the book where Charlie and Willy Wonka see all the other children leaving the factory at the end was left out. It gives the movie a whimsical slasher vibe that gives it a little cheek.
I always assumed that it was left out because of the difficulty of shooting that scene in 1971, with Mike Teevee all stretched out as he would have been. Regardless of why the decision was made, the fact is we have to take Wonka’s word for it that the other children got out safe, and as Wilder said of his incarnation of Wonka, “…no one will know if I'm lying or telling the truth.”
Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay
When it comes to this reason I am actually a little bit torn. I love the fact the Roald Dahl had an opportunity to re-realize his book as a film. It was his choice to make changes from the book such as leaving out the character Mr. Bucket and changing the scene at the end.
However Dahl apparently had a hard time letting go of his novel and allowing it to be transformed into a film. He was not happy about the casting of Gene Wilder, he had had other ideas for who should play Wonka including Spike Milligan and Ron Moody. He was also very unhappy with Stuart’s decision to add the Slugworth plot twist and the Fizzy Lifting Drink scene.
In my opinion both of Stuart’s changes added volume to the film and gave it extra depth. Slugworth gave it a villain, while the belching scene allowed us to take a second look at right and wrong and stopped Charlie from being infallible.
It was also Stuart’s decision to shift the attention of the film from Charlie to Wonka. This is another choice that I thought enhanced the film, rather than took away from it. While a child can carry a story in a book if that’s how the writer writes it asking Peter Ostrum (the new actor who played Charlie) to carry the whole movie probably would have caused him to wilt under the pressure.
Though Dahl wrote the screenplay he was ultimately very disappointed with the finished movie. The changes Stuart made angered him so much that he didn’t allow any other Wonka films to be made during his lifetime. Frankly after seeing the unfortunate 2005 attempt, I think the world would have been better off if his wishes had been granted.
The nerve center of the factory where everything is eatable- edible
The scene where that bizarrely large door opens into the fairy-tale land of candy and Wonka starts singing Pure Imagination is fantastic. That room pretty much sums up childhood fantasy in a few shots. And the song Pure Imagination is one of my favourites to this day. Who wouldn’t want to abandon every care in the world and romp through a land with candy grass and edible flower/teacup things? If you say you wouldn’t I would be inclined to believe you were lying, though I have no idea why.
When it is discovered that the fifth golden ticket (a fake) was found by a Paraguayan owner of casinos throughout South America the picture the newscaster holds up is of Nazi henchman Martin Bormann. This is an allusion no one would have expected in a children’s movie, never mind a movie created almost entirely by Jews. It’s clever, and hard to catch, but once you learn who that actually is you really can’t stop thinking “No they didn’t!”
These are just a few reasons that I watch Willy Wonka over and over again, never tiring of it and never ceasing to delight over the little details. It is rife with goofs and glitches that are easy enough to see but this film was clever, whimsical and above all had a depth that few “children’s” movies manage. I would love to hear what your favourite aspects of this movie are, or if you didn’t like it, then I’d love to hear why.
Thanks for reading!