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Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

In anticipation of the new film "Wonka" arriving in thaters this week, I wanted to go back and revisit the original 1971 film, WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.

It's easy to forget that the film was not a hit when originally released, considered a strange misfire from Quaker Oats trying to dabble in the film business.

Over the decades it's become a family classic, often quoted and fondly remembered. Every time I revisit it as an adult, I'm shocked how very dark it is around the edges.

Author Roald Dahl (OO7's "You Only Live Twice") adapted his book for the screen and loaded the film with adult throwaway scenes, gross images and plenty of observations about children and parents. I was 10 when I saw this on the big screen at the old movie palace The Palms, on Central Avenue in Phoenix. I remember thinking it was very quirky, loving Gene Wilder's crazy approach and the songs by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, who had previously written the music for "Doctor Dolittle" in 1968 and "Scrooge" in 1970.

We all know the story and have our own riffs on it. Poor Charlie Bucket (a very good Peter Ostrum in his one and only film role) lives with his Mom and two sets of grandparents, both of whom have been bedridden for 20 years.

He dreams of being one of the five children around the world to find a Golden Ticket from Chocolate Maker Willy Wonka, who's opening his factory in their town for a one-time, exclusive tour alongside the man himself.

I have a friend who does a fantastic, hilariously profane routine on what a jerk Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) is for lying in bed for two decades and then jumping out and dancing around immediately when he thinks Charlie's hit the gravy train by finding one of those tickets. It is just one of many odd moments, played for twisted fun by Dahl.

Each of the kids memorably sports their own vice and in the refreshingly unsensitive 70's, Dahl calls them out shamelessly. Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole) is a greedy brat, singing "I Want It Now" and demanding instant gratification. Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner) is a gluttenous little porker, who the Oompa Loompas send off with a song that finds a million ways to say he's fat. Snowflakes of today will be apoplectic upon viewing.

The hilarious Denise Nickerson (always my favorite) is Violet Beauregarde, who plays to the press mercillesly, taunting her school friends like a reality TV diva decades before there was such a thing. And of course there's Mike TeeVee (Paris Themmen), who rarely takes his eyes off the screen.

WOW, how prophetic was Roald Dahl? He just described the 2020's flawlessly!

At the film's center is Gene Wilder as Wonka. He's brilliant, spouting philosophers, taunting the parents during life and death moments, cutting to the core of each child's nature and at times, screaming violently. It all works. WIlder was perfectly cast.

If you want to see just how off the rails this role could have been played, check out Johnny Depp in 2005's remake, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". He tries to out-Wilder Wilder, but it just comes off strange and affected.

I loved how Dahl snuck in quiet lines of dialogue for Wilder like these:

"A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men." is whispered into one parents ear.

When observing Veruca's temper tantrums: "Where is fancy bred, in the heart or in the head?"

To Augustus' Mom after he falls into the chocolate river and is sucked into a pipe: "Nil desperandum, my dear lady. Across the desert lies the promised land."

The production design is excellent throughout, from Charlie's tiny house to Wonka's massive factory. Harper Goff created the sets and they stand right alongside his legendary work on "Fantastic Voyage" and "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea".

After the film bombed in theatres, Director Mel Stuart spent the rest of the seventies directing TV movies and popular series of the day.

The songs are great. "Pure Imagination" has become a standard and is apparently the only song being resurrected for the new 2023 Timothee Chalamet version.

Sammy Davis Jr's cover of "Candy Man" became one of his biggest hits and I dont know too many people that can't rattle off a couple lines from one of the Oompa Loompa songs that pop up every time one of the five children toss themselves out of the factory tour.

50+ years after its release, WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY remains a tasty family film for the unsensitive viewer. It's observations might cause gasps for some today, which elevates it even higher on the Wonkavator for me.

Kudos to Dahl for sticking with his vision and creating a timeless candy-coated entertainment with harsh lessons at its center.

I'll give it an everlastinggobstopper of an A.

Here's the original trailer from 1971.

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Unknown member
Dec 13, 2023

Just talked about this movie with my juniors the other day. Will definitely be watching it again soon!

Unknown member
Dec 13, 2023
Replying to

There's a lot more to it than meets the eye! I always see something I never have before. This time it was all the sideways, whispered quotes to the parents....


Unknown member
Dec 12, 2023

I always learn something new!

I didn't know he wrote a screenplay for 007! Very interesting!

I think only you could come up with new onomatoonomatopoeic words, as Dahl created.

Unknown member
Dec 12, 2023
Replying to

I was always great at spelling, at least!

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