August 26, 2010

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

YET ANOTHER FIRST for Dash: We finally took a step out of animated movies and watched his first live-action film.

And we did it with one of my all-time favorites – not just from my childhood, but to this day.


Poor paperboy Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) and his Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) dream about what lies behind the factory walls of reclusive candymaker Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder). Then one day, Wonka throws a worldwide contest by hiding six golden tickets among his chocolate Wonka bars, granting the winning ticketholders a tour of his factory.


So many elements come together to make Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory a deliciously timeless classic that it’s best to address them one by one…

The cast.
Wilder seems to be genuinely enjoying if not relishing his role as the eccentric Wonka. He comes off as alternately endearing and maniacal – spouting off quotes from Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Keats as he implicitly tests the honesty and goodness of the kids touring his factory.

13-year-old Ostrum does a great job of getting the viewer to root for good-hearted Charlie, who ultimately finds a golden ticket (in one of the film’s most exciting, uplifting moments) and is joined on Wonka’s factory tour by the other winners: German glutton Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), obnoxious Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson), spoiled brat Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), and television addict Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen).

The music.
The songs by composers Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse have stood the test of time, with many still memorable after 40 years: Wonka’s signature tune, “Pure Imagination;” “Cheer Up Charlie,” which could have come straight from the classic Disney songbook; the cautionary songs by the Oompa Loompas, Wonka’s pint-sized, orange-skinned employees; and “The Candy Man,” written for the film and later made famous (or infamous) by Sammy Davis, Jr.

The settings.
From Charlie’s could-be-anywhere village town (in reality, Munich) to the fantastic rooms of Wonka’s dream-like factory, the settings are truly the stuff of fairy tales. The set pieces in the factory are amazing – a world of chocolate rivers, candy trees, fizzy-lifting drinks, and fruit-flavored wallpaper (director Mel Stuart credits the imagination of Oscar-winning art director Harper Goff).

Author Roald Dahl adapted his own book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the Willy Wonka script (with a polish by first-time screenwriter David Seltzer), yet apparently he hated the film. With all due respect to Dahl, it doesn’t matter. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a wonderfully yummy treat with a morality-tale center – a fun adventure that speaks not only to children, but the kid inside each of us.

* Both Anthony Newley and Sammy Davis, Jr. wanted to play the role of the candy store owner who sings “The Candy Man” in the film, but director Stuart felt it would be too showbiz and would shatter the illusion of the story. (The role went to Aubrey Woods.)
* When the children first enter the sprawling Chocolate Room, their reactions are real – it was actually their first view of that set.
* Skip the 2005 DVD release and watch the 2001 edition, which features a bunch of extras including an insightful, often funny commentary by the now-adult Wonka kids.

What did Dash think?
Dash did enjoy Willy Wonka, giggling and chuckling along the way – though I don’t think he was as enthralled with it as I’ve been over the years. Maybe it was because it was his first non-animated film, or because it ended an hour past his bedtime. Bottom line: While I think he liked it, I don’t anticipate repeat viewings.

Will your kids like it?
Kids of a certain age (I’ll say 7 and older) will really enjoy Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It’s a visual and musical feast, Wilder’s Wonka is an iconic character, kids can really get behind the character of Charlie…and really, isn’t it the dream of any child to have their own chocolate factory? (Though maybe these days, it’s more about owning a fruit-snack factory.)

Depending on your sensitivities, there may be a few things to consider if you’re thinking of letting wee little ones watch Wonka:
* The implied off-screen fates of the children who didn’t listen to Wonka during the factory tour, including being made into fudge, de-juiced before exploding, burned in a furnace, and stretched with a taffy-pulling machine
* A scene where a wife must choose between her kidnapped husband’s life or giving his captors her case of Wonka bars (it ends with a soft punchline aimed at adults)
* Passing references to Grandpa Joe’s pipe tobacco
* The boat ride on the chocolate river is a nightmarish, bad acid trip with Day-Glo colors, creepy images (including the beheading of a chicken), and Wonka’s scary a capella song (with a reference to “the fires of Hell”) which ends with him screaming the lyrics before stopping the boat

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
I hope that she had already seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as a child, but if not, here’s your chance. It’s great viewing for you and her to share, either with or without kids.

I want my right arm back and I want it NOW!!!

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
* Director: Mel Stuart
* Screenwriter: Roald Dahl
* Stars: Gene Wilder, Peter Ostrum, Jack Albertson, Michael Bollner, Denise Nickerson, Julie Dawn Cole, Paris Themmen, Roy Kinnear
* MPAA Rating: G

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Stu said...

I just watched this film in my pop-culture course last night. Such a wonderful and funny film. I appreciate it now even more than I did as a child.

Kal said...

This was my favorite book as a kid and I always remembered how Charlie's Dad screwed the caps on the toothpaste tubes and they only ever ate cabbage soup and the way the grandparents slept foot to foot. That was as dirt poor and Dickensian as I could ever imagine so Charlie's success is just always so extra sweet. And who didn't want that great glass elevator? Have you thought about showing young Dash 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang', another childhood favorite of mine?

Daddy Geek Boy said...

This movie freaked me out to no end as a kid. I've since gotten over it and love it.

It'll be a while before my kids see it. But they will see this one over the Tim Burton one--at least if I can help it.

We just finished reading the book to the Bean he loved it.

James (SeattleDad) said...

Yeah, this one was a bit odd to me as a kid. We will both have to see it when Lukas turns 7 or so.

Gemma said...

Another great film for us to re-visit!

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