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“Come with me, and we’ll be, in a world of pure imagination…”
Is it just me, or have we been losing a lot of good people this year? I thought the Beloved Celebrity Death Plagues of ’09 and ’15 were bad, but less than a few weeks after we rang in the new year it’s like 2016 looked at the entertainment world and said “Wait ’til you get a load of me!” Sad to say it’s also one of the reasons why I’m looking at this beloved classic from many a childhood this month rather than something leaning towards the horror genre – not that I’m complaining about it, I adore this movie as much as anyone, even more so now that the man who brought the titular character to life is sadly no longer with us. Of course, if you’re one of those people who found themselves, oh, traumatized by Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in their youth (a feeling which I too am familiar with when it comes to this movie), then this might be right up your alley.
But first, let’s talk about the man who brought us the story of Willy Wonka in the first place, Roald Dahl. You might remember his name popping up in my review of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Dahl wrote the screenplay for that movie and as silly and nonsensical as it is, even for a ’60s family musical, it’s got his trademark blur between whimsy and darkness all over it. Dahl is most famous for his children’s books, stories like “Matilda”, “The BFG”, “The Witches”, “The Twits”, “Danny Champion of the World”, and those are just the ones I can name off the top of my head. His tales often feature children as protagonists persevering through kindness, bravery and wits against foolish adults in a world that’s dark and scary, usually mixing in a naughty sense of humor for good measure. He’s mostly been compared to the Brothers Grimm in that regard, though unlike Jacob and Wilhelm he never went back and re-edited his own stories for being too dark. He knew how bleak the world could be, especially for kids who have to put up with seemingly pointless rules and the cruel people who administer them, and though he added a lot of silly rhymes and fantastical characters in the mix, he did not sugarcoat these harsh truths. Despite the umbrage you’d expect from parents and educational figures, his stories still remain some the most popular ever written for young audiences. Heck, even I still pick them up every once in a while. Appropriately, this year marks his 100th birthday, and I’m happy to say much of the literary world celebrated his legacy. Of course, his story that’s most recognized to this day, especially thanks to this movie, is “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.
Now I know what you’re thinking. I mean “Willy Wonka”, right? His name is in the title of the movie after all. If that’s what is going through your mind then it’s time to segueway into the history part of the review. You see, the reason this movie was made in the first place was due to good old fashioned corporate American capitalism. Warner Brothers made a deal with Quaker Oats for them to create their own brand of chocolate Wonka bars and renamed the movie from Charlie to Willy Wonka to promote sales (and not because Charlie was a slur during the Vietnam War like most people believe). It didn’t help either of them in the long run as the movie didn’t do well financially and the bars melted at room temperature, resulting in a very short shelf life for both. Even though Roald Dahl penned the script for the film, much of what he wrote wasn’t used and his ideas for who should play his famous candymaker were ignored. He hated it as a result and has retained that outlook on most adaptations of his work up until his death, the one exception being the animated version of The BFG.
Willy Wonka did find a second life on tv airings and on home video, and over time has become as nearly as big a classic as The Wizard of Oz. In fact, my introduction to Willy Wonka was the first VHS release for its 25th anniversary. My younger cousin (the same one whose birthday party was my introduction to The Nightmare Before Christmas) showed it to me and I enjoyed it almost as much as he did, though we both hid in his bedroom during…that scene. Then I went through the same motions I did with several childhood favorites growing up: becoming cynical, pointing out the plotholes and making fun of it, trying act cool over…that scene while I was freaking out on the inside, all of this not helped after getting around to reading the book it was based on and finding it better especially because it didn’t have…THAT SCENE. I hoped someday a more faithful adaptation would be made, and I was both overjoyed and envious when it was announced Tim Burton would be directing a new take on the tale (envious because I hoped I’d be the one doing it, but hey, never say never).
Now I’m probably going to lose all credibility on this next statement, but I have to come out with it in order to move forward.
When I saw Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2005, I liked it.
Huh, that’s funny. I thought the angry mob would have show up to kick my ass.
I said, liked, LIKED! Emphasis on past tense! Can I at least continue my explanation before I get hung in town square for all to see?
Coming from a semi-cynical teenager teetering on the edge of becoming a Goth and adoring anything by Tim Burton, I thought the movie was a superior adaptation at the time, removing the camp, cheese and nightmare fuel while being much more faithful to the book. It managed to gain quite a following with people who felt the same way. Even Roald Dahl’s own daughter admitted he would have loved it. Over time, however, I noticed it didn’t hold up as well as my initial viewing. I had yet to learn that in adapting written works for film some changes have to be made to better fit the medium and build an emotional connection to the characters. “Charlie” was faithful in some ways, but made unnecessary additions in other places. Some of the child actors aren’t all that great and scenes that were meant to be funny in the original movie don’t come across that way in the newer one. And Johnny Depp…well, he’s being Johnny Depp. Just because it worked for Pirates of the Caribbean doesn’t mean it will work anywhere else. I still consider it a decent movie and the hate for it pretty overblown, but after giving the classic Willy Wonka another chance some years later, I have to say the 1971 version is the better version, and I will now present my case as to why.
The opening credits are among my favorites for any film ever made. It’s a simple montage of different kinds of chocolates being made from start to finish, from cocoa bean to assembly line, but damn if it doesn’t have me craving some sweet chocolatey goodness every time. That and the lovely instrumental medley of “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” and “Pure Imagination” really get me in the mood for this magical mystery treat.
As the school bell rings, the kids of some Euro-American town crowd at the popular hangout, Bill’s Candy Shop. Bill shows off a new chocolate bar from the local Wonka candy factory, a Scrumdiddlyumptious bar. When a young boy asks how Wonka does it, Bill says because he was born to be a candy man and serenades the kids with the classic Sammy Davis Jr. hit “The Candy Man” while they help themselves to anything that’s chock-full of sugar. There’s one little boy, however, who can only remain on the outside looking in at all the sweetness.
This is Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum). He’s just a poor boy from a poor family whose life is not spared from this monstrosity of watching kids more enabled than him getting everything they want. Something few people know is that this is Peter Ostrum’s only acting role – not because he was overlooked for other parts or quickly spiraled downward like most child stars or that he was a bad actor. On the contrary, Ostrum’s quite good as Charlie and manages to subtly show real character in what would otherwise be a boring vanilla nice kid. He just chose to bow out of showbusiness graciously once filming was done. And you know what? I completely respect that. He tried his hand at acting, had a good time, but in the end decided it wasn’t for him. He still goes to the occasional cast reunion and visits schools to share his experience on set, but he’s completely happy with life outside the spotlight and holds no bitterness toward being in this singular recognizable film. You go, Peter.
Charlie goes on his daily paper route throughout the town, pausing only when he’s outside of the gates of the Wonka factory at dusk. He’s startled by a creepy old man appearing behind him and quoting a bit of William Allingham’s “The Fairies” before ominously saying nobody ever goes in the factory and nobody ever comes out. This is an effectively eerie scene, setting up the mysterious factory and also telling the audience “You thought this was just gonna be happy-go-lucky singing all the way through? Oh ho brother, just you wait…”
Charlie returns to the tiny cottage he calls home where his mother and four bedridden grandparents (George, Georgina, Josephine and Joe) are waiting. His father has been dead a long time, leaving his mother to work a multitude of jobs to keep the family from starving. Charlie surprises them with a “banquet”, a loaf of bread he bought with his first pay day. He also volunteers to use the rest to pay for Grandpa Joe’s tobacco, but he would rather give it up than take from his grandson’s hard-earned money despite the family’s objections. And speaking as someone who lost a Grandpa Joe to lung cancer after years of smoking…just, just listen to him, Charlie. Stop the habit while you can, for his sake and yours. As everyone in the house sleeps, Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) tells Charlie a bit more about Wonka and his factory. It’s a short wonderful scene that rides completely on Albertson’s performance and he nails it as a storyteller. Wonka’s success invited corporate espionage from other less talented candymakers, especially one Mr. Slugworth (because with a name like that you have to be some kind villain in a children’s movie). Faced with ruination, Wonka closed the factory for years before suddenly re-opening and producing more fantastical sweets than ever. The gates are still locked, however, and the identity of whomever’s running the place is a mystery to all.
School the next morning provides some levity as we meet Mr. Turkentine, Charlie’s know-it-all teacher who doesn’t really know it all. For years I thought he was played by Eric Idle because he bears quite an uncanny resemblance to him, even down to the voice, but sadly I was mistaken. After the chemistry lesson blows up in his face there’s a commotion outside the classroom. An excited kid in the hall tells Turkentine that it was just announced on the radio that Wonka has hidden five golden tickets in his chocolate bars; the people who find them will win a lifetime supply of chocolate, a tour of the factory guided by Wonka himself, and a third secret grand prize. This leads into one of the funniest dialogue exchanges in the movie where with each new fact Turkentine dismisses or un-dismisses his class before storming out himself to buy some Wonka bars.
The whole world is swept up by Wonka-mania with news updates around the clock and stores selling out within the hour. Charlie has his heart set on finding one, even though the odds are extremely against him. We get montages of people around the globe going nuts, piling their shopping carts with Wonka bars, and one admittedly humorous if random scene where a man tells his psychiatrist about a dream involving an angel telling him where one of the Golden Tickets is and the psychiatrist presses him about that more than the dream itself.
Soon enough the first Golden Ticket is found by one Augustus Gloop from Germany, a glutton whose eating habits are encouraged by his almost equally greedy parents. They don’t give Augustus that many lines or details about his backstory in the movie, most likely because the boy who played him didn’t speak English that well, but the book tells us that while other kids play or read or do other activities for fun, Augustus does nothing but eat. It’s his hobby. While his mother speaks for him in an interview at a restaurant, the server, a sinister figure with a scar across his face, whispers something to him.
On Charlie’s birthday, his grandparents give him a Wonka bar as his present. It might seem like a cheap gift, but remember, this is an extremely poor family and since Wonka bars are selling like the first wave of Pokemon merchandise in the 90’s (as someone who remembers and rode that wave for a while I can vouch for it) they’re lucky they even managed to get one. Also in the book it was a tradition for Charlie since he could never afford any candy of his own. Grandpa Joe insists on him opening it so he can get that Golden Ticket and Charlie does only to find there’s none there. He tries to play it off as a joke by tricking the family into thinking he has it, but he can’t hide the disappointment when he says “Fooled you, didn’t I? Thought I really had it.”
Meanwhile we meet our soon-to-be second Golden Ticket winner Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole) ranting and screaming over not having a ticket yet like a young Hilary Clinton having a tantrum (what, you thought I limited myself to just Trump jokes?). Her father Mr. Salt (Roy Kinnear) owns a nut factory and instead of having his workers shell peanuts they’ve been unwrapping truckloads of chocolate since the contest began since he can’t bear to see his daughter go unhappy for one second. Kinnear’s performance as Veruca’s doormat father is one of the highlights of the film. The poor man is exhausted by Veruca’s constant demands but has no spine and nowhere to vent his frustrations. His responses to her wanting everything in sight make for some of the best reactions in the film. His wife Mrs. Salt makes her only appearance in this scene and she gets a few good sarcastic asides as well. Mr. Salt is on the verge of a nervous breakdown when one of the worker girls finally finds a ticket. A man brings the girl and the ticket to Veruca, and he happens to have the same scar on his face…
Charlie watches the third Golden Ticket winner on television, Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson), a rude and arrogant girl who enjoys showing off her record-breaking overchewed piece of gum. While her fast-talking car salesman father “Sam B.” turns the interview into a free commercial for his dealership, do I even have to tell you who approaches Violet? Charlie visits his mother while she’s at work and tells her about the contest update. Though he tries to pass it off as just news, he soon breaks and tells her that even though he wants this prize more than any one else does, he knows there’s no way he’ll ever find it. She tries to alleviate his worries by reminding him that there are hundreds of other people out there who are no different than him. As he walks home, his mother sings the most underrated song in the movie, “Cheer Up Charlie”, a sweet reminder that though things are hard now, change will always happen when you least expect it. Director Mel Stuart often requested that the song be cut out on tv airings because it grinds the plot to a halt and is too sentimental. I disagree; the meaningful lyrics and melody compliment each other and it packs quite an emotional punch. In fact I saw this movie in theaters this past summer with one of my closest friends and I caught him tearing up at this part. My one nitpick is that maybe it would have worked more if she sang it to Charlie instead after he left, but her singing over his lonely walk does emphasize how…alone he feels.
Following that is our introduction to the penultimate ticket winner, Mike Teavee. Roald Dahl was never exactly subtle about his distaste for television and how he felt it stole young minds away from reading good books, and Mike is the culmination of everything he hated about the boob tube. He’s the most obnoxious of the four, shouting at the reporters to shut up so he can keep watching his program, only eating dinner in front of the television set, and obsessing over Westerns, even going so far as dressing up as a cowboy and playing with toy firearms until the day he turns twelve and gets his own gun (and considering our gun laws, sad to say it’s pretty likely). And as is the case, the mysterious man appears as a reporter and whispers something to Mike in private.
In the middle of the night, Grandpa Joe wakes up Charlie with a surprise – another Wonka bar he bought with the money meant for his tobacco (not entirely sure how he got it since he never stepped out of bed in twenty years but I’m not gonna pick that apart). Together he and Charlie open it only to find it’s another dud. Charlie tries to dismiss the sour grapes saying the ticket probably makes the chocolate taste terrible, and Grandpa Joe pulls him into a silent hug.
People become more desperate as the number of tickets dwindle. A scientist tries to beat the system by getting a supercomputer to tell him where the remaining tickets are only for the computer to troll him in front of a bunch of investors. An auction in the United Kingdom where the last case of Wonkas are being sold is put on hold when it’s discovered the Queen of England herself is there placing bids. A news anchor tells the world to be grateful for what we already have instead of the grand prize, but can’t think of a single thing to be thankful for. And…a woman’s husband is held for ransom unless she gives the kidnappers her Wonka bars and she seriously considers hoarding them over her husband’s life.
All right, let me level with you. Up until now the cuts to other scenes sprinkled throughout the main plot with Charlie didn’t bother me. Most of them are quite funny now that I’m older. I can appreciate them throwing in moments like these that gave the adults in the audience something to laugh at. But the ransom scene made me feel like we jumped into another movie entirely. We don’t even get much of a resolution to it either. I get the punchline, but seriously, what happened to her husband? Did he make it out alive? In fact, this was one of the reasons why I preferred Tim Burton’s movie over this one in my youth. As a kid it felt like it took for-freaking-EVER to finally get to the chocolate factory because we spend so long in the mundane world with these unrelated strangers’ problems. Fast-forwarding the tape to the parts I wanted took more effort than to just sit there and watch so there wasn’t much point in doing it. I understand them building up the factory because it pays off spectacularly in how fantastical it is compared to the outside world. I get it. When I was six, however, I didn’t want to sit through these boring interruptions. I was promised fantasy and chocolate and like Veruca I wanted them NOW!
Eventually, the worst happens. The final Golden Ticket is found by a wealthy
former Nazi millionaire in South America. It’s broadcast on the news while Charlie is in bed. No one in the family wants to break it to him and destroy all his hopes, least of all Grandpa Joe who desperately wanted something for his grandson to believe in. He tells them to let him have one last night of dreaming, unaware that Charlie has overheard everything.
After another humiliating day at school with Mr. Turkentine, Charlie discovers a silver dollar in the gutter. Rather than run home with it, he decides to treat himself from some chocolate at Bill’s. Bill is cordial but seems uncharacteristically pushy when Charlie starts eating his Scrumdiddlyumptious bar before giving him his money.
Charlie uses the change to buy a regular Wonka bar for Grandpa Joe (suuuuure it is) and exits to find the newsstand crowded with people fighting to read the latest story – the last Golden Ticket was discovered to be a fake, meaning the real one is still somewhere out there.
Charlie slowly unwraps his Wonka bar, hoping against hope until…
A woman in the crowd notices Charlie’s found the Golden Ticket and drags him into the mob of people screaming for a look or offering him money for it. The man running the newsstand spirits Charlie out and tells him to run home as fast as he can, which he does. It’s absolutely cathartic watching him sprint off holding that ticket safely in his hands. Then he takes a shortcut through a dark tunnel where meets –
The stranger congratulates Charlie and introduces himself – this is Mr. Slugworth, and he has an offer for him, the same one he made to each of the ticket winners. He tells him Willy Wonka is currently working on a new kind of candy called the Everlasting Gobstopper, which will destroy Slugworth Candies if he succeeds. In exchange for smuggling out one Gobstopper so he can determine the secret formula and produce his own, Slugworth will give Charlie enough money to have his family live in luxury. He tells him to think it over and departs as quickly as he came. Now I find the way Slugworth approaches Charlie in this scene to be fascinating, and not just for the way it’s filmed with him being off-center and extreme close-up to emphasize the uneasiness of this meeting. While he spoke with the other children in the presence of their parents and out in public, he made his offer to Charlie alone, without anyone who could guide him towards a definite answer. I’m sure anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet is already questioning how he even knew where the ticket winners would be, but you’re going to have to wait for that answer.
Charlie makes it back home and no one believes him about the Golden Ticket until he shows it to his family. Grandpa Joe is so thrilled that he gets up out of bed very, very, veeeeeerrrrryyy slowly for the first time in twenty years and eventually dances around the house with Charlie as they both sing this movie’s second flagship musical number “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket”. I have mixed feelings about this song. The slow start never did much for me, and neither Peter Ostrum or Jack Albertson are great singers or dancers. From what I’ve gathered this was supposed to be a big crowd number, and I can definitely get that vibe from the orchestration. I can even imagine how it would have looked, with Grandpa Joe and Charlie marching through the streets getting the whole town swept up in their song. Mel Stuart, however, wanted to keep some amount of realism to the first half of the movie and decided to keep the number of singers down to just two. Still, the lyrics are nice and upbeat, and I sometimes enjoy listening to this song on its own without the visuals more than watching it in the movie itself.
The next morning is the big day, and it seems like the entire world is gathered at the factory gates to get a peek at the five winners and Willy Wonka himself. At the stroke of ten, the reclusive chocolatier makes his entrance.
And dear God, where do I BEGIN with Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka?
The character of Willy Wonka is sprightly, friendly and eccentric, a mad genius always defying what we mere mortals call logic. Gene doesn’t just succeed in adding a few more layers to his book counterpart. He has made the part his own. Though we know next to nothing about Wonka’s past or who he really is, the mystery is what makes him so fascinating. You can tell he always has something up his sleeve; beneath the seemingly random acts he’s already laid the groundwork for a master plan. He knows how to keep people guessing – he can go from making mathematical calculations to quoting Shakespeare in the blink of an eye, he’ll switch from speaking in one language to another in the middle of a conversation, there are moments where he unexpectedly bursts into song, and then there’s the sarcasm. Oh yes, the sarcasm. Gene’s Wonka is a master of wit and wordplay. Any question or defiance of his authority he’s able to deflect at a moment’s notice and then keep on talking as if there were no interruptions. Everyone especially remembers his half-hearted warnings of “Stop, don’t, come back” when a child in the factory is misbehaving, but when his mockery is hiding in plain sight, masquerading as compliments or friendly advice? THAT’S when it’s hilarious. Still, there are flashes of melancholy beneath the joy. Even at his happiest you get the idea that he knows this moment is fleeting.
There’s so little to talk about and so much to time to write – strike that, reverse it – that all I’ll say is that you couldn’t have found a more perfect actor for the role, and believe me they have tried a number of people. I won’t list them all here because you could just as easily look it up and find a who’s who of famed British comedians and Broadway stars that clamored to fill the role. Mel Stuart all but handed it to Gene on the spot, though Gene told him he’d accept on one condition: that his first appearance in the movie would be done his way. What follows is one of the greatest entrances in cinematic history, one that tells you everything you need to know about the character of Willy Wonka before he utters a single word.
Willy invites the children and their families in and remains as polite and friendly as ever in the face of some of their obnoxious behavior. His straightlaced responses to their introductions are only a teaser of what’s to come. After a run in with some Cocteau-inspired coat hooks, he leads the children to a contract spanning the length of the wall. The only way for them to get in is to sign it, even though the fine print can only be read through a microscope (as someone who’s worked at a place not too removed from the whimsy and wonder of the chocolate factory, I’ll just say that I’m no stranger to these kinds of agreements). They then get into shenanigans with a closed-off hallway that switches itself around to where the heart of the factory is, a huge beautiful brightly lit wonderland made of life-size confections.
Willy Wonka guides them into his magical world with the…that…utter…wondrous…beauty…thing…that is…”Pure Imagination”.
…I…I have no words. Take it away, Gene.
One of the many unusual wonders in the Chocolate Room is a river of
dirty water chocolate mixed and churned via waterfall to get it just right. Across the river appear a group of funny little men with orange skin and green hair. Wonka tells the group that these are the Oompa Loompas, whom he rescued from the monster-infested country of Loompa Land and brought to the factory to be his workers. All unfortunate imperialistic implications aside the way Gene tells the story shows how much he cares about the Oompa Loompas and his words carry his tale alone (and of course he manages to stop both Veruca’s father and Mike’s mother’s doubts of his veracity with a few simple word because he’s that awesome).
One person who hasn’t been listening to Wonka’s story is Augustus. He’s been helping himself to a drink from the chocolate river. Wonka runs over to stop him from contaminating the river further but Augustus falls in and nearly drowns. One little thing I like here is that Charlie actually tries to save him while everyone else stands there helplessly. It’s one thing to just be called nice by everyone else while doing nothing but he goes out of his way to try to help someone he just met. Who says Charlie’s bland?
Unfortunately he’s too late and Augustus is sucked into a pipe carrying the chocolate to another room in the factory. His mother panics over him being made into a marshmallow treat, but Wonka tells her there’s nothing to worry about – that pipe goes to the fudge room, not the marshmallow room (whew, had me worried there for a second). Wonka politely leaves Mrs. Gloop with an Oompa Loompa to retrieve her son before he’s boiled, and the other Oompa Loompas send her off with a little cautionary song about the dangers of gluttony that I can already tell you’re humming as you’re reading this. Don’t deny it. Even if you’re not I know it’s playing in your head.
The adults are ready to question Wonka about his OSHA compliances when he allays them with…
Everyone boards the Wonkatania and at first it’s a pleasant experience. They glide along the river to the strains of “Pure Imagination”, the adults and Wonka exchange some fun banter…
…and then they get to a tunnel.
The tempo picks up.
The music becomes warped.
The pitch darkness yields to a void of strobe lights that paint the scene in shades of blood red and –
You know what, I’m gonna leave this part in the very capable hands of Cynicism while I go wait it out in Sweater Town. See you in a few.
The boat speedses on faster and faster it does, and nasty wretched things appear on the walls – insects crawling over peopleses faces, snakeses, chickenses getting their heads chopped off! And the actorses is not acting when Wonka starts screaming about not knowings where they goings. They was as horrified as we are! Teavee boy says he wishes there was more shows like this. Well there was, boy, it was called Twin Peakses! We once showed a friend in elementary school this movie and she foolishly wished to see this part. We was alone in the dark. We covered our face in pillowses and kept warm flashlight on for seeing without fear. Then horrible Mumsy come in and think her precious too good to sit and watch scary movie with friend. She stole pillow and light and forced us to watch! Nasty thieving mumsy, we hates her forever for that!!
FUCKING HELL, BITCH!!!
As a mature but still terrified adult, I have to wonder why this scene was even there to begin with. I read that Mel Stuart wanted to have a moment that terrified the adults as much as the children, but this is the one part in the film that is anything like…THIS. None of the characters ever bring it up again afterwards, like they’re as desperate to forget about it as we are. Its place among the scariest moments in children’s films – heck, of ALL TIME according to Bravo’s Top 100 list- has been discussed and parodied for years. Even the guys behind How It Should Have Ended made this the focal point of one of their first videos. Now before you think I’m decrying it as a nightmare-inducing waste of time, I’d like to point out there are two things I can take away from this scene –
1. When Veruca first got on the boat she prattled on about wanting one just like it. Getting off she immediately says, “Daddy, I do NOT want a boat like this.” Great way to diffuse the terror of what we just witnessed with humor.
2. There’s a theory that this is potentially another test by Wonka, one designed to showcase the riders’ worst fears. Everyone who looks at the wall sees some fucked-up imagery, while Charlie sees Slugworth staring back at him, which does lend it some credence.
Nobody wastes any time in disembarking once they’re ashore and Wonka takes them to the Inventing Room, warning them not to touch or taste anything. It’s fun seeing Wonka in this environment as we get a glimpse of the “absolutely bonkers” creative genius at work with his machines and throwing in some playful puns for good measure. There’s a change in the air as he shows them a device completely cloaked in colorful sheets which he admits to wanting to keep as secret as possible (though keeping it under a circus tent kind of defeats the purpose). The machine produces his latest and greatest creation: a meme generator.
Actually it produces Everlasting Gobstoppers, and Wonka gives one to each of the children as long as they promise to share it with no one else.
Wonka also reveals another machine that promises to revolutionize the candy world as they know it once testing is successful – it produces a stick of gum that not only tastes like a three-course dinner but fills you up as if you were actually eating one. Violet isn’t interested in the fact that Wonka has essentially solved world hunger as much as that it’s a new kind of gum she hasn’t tried yet, so she snatches it from his hands and starts a-chewing amid his apathetic warnings. Mr. Beauregarde encourages her as she enjoys her tomato soup and roast beef, but as she reaches the blueberry pie dessert, she begins to turn blue all over and swell up. Wonka informs her father that she’s filling with juice and turning into a blueberry.
Wonka summons the Oompa Loompas again to roll Violet to the Juicing Room and squeeze her out before she goes kablooey, and once more they sing their Oompa Loompa song with the words tailored to match the cause of her predicament, gum chewing. Not her rudeness towards more knowledgeable adults and her own father, not her blind desire to be number one in everything, just gum chewing. Truly the eighth deadly sin. Mr. Beauregarde follows her out the door both cursing Wonka and lamenting he has a blueberry for a daughter.
After making a not-at-all ominous remark about there being only three good children left, Wonka takes them to a treat where you’d have to be some kind of moron to get hurt by, wallpaper that tastes like whatever fruit you’re licking. He encourages them to try everything including the snozzberries, to which Veruca callously asks “Whomever heard of a snozzberry?” Wonka grabs the little brat by the cheeks and in a dead serious tone tells her, “We are the makers of music, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
I’m sorry but I just have to say it.
Next they enter a room full of bubbles where Wonka has been perfecting “fizzy lifting drinks” that give the drinker the ability to float through the air. He tells them it’s too dangerous for them to try and moves on, but Grandpa Joe and Charlie stick around to sample it themselves, somehow having not having paid attention to what happened to the last two kids who disobeyed Wonka’s orders. With one sip they find themselves floating upwards with ease…untilthey find they’re heading for a giant fan right over their heads and they can’t get back down or grab on to anything. Seconds before they’re cut to pieces, Grandpa Joe discovers the only way to float back down is by belching and the scene goes from nightmare fuel to funny again.
The two catch up with everyone in a room that has giant geese laying pre-wrapped golden chocolate eggs for Easter. Not a great substitute for squirrels that are trained to crack nuts, but it’s the best they could do regarding technological limitations. Every egg that’s laid lands on an “Egg-dicator” that determines if it’s a good egg that’s put on the shelves or a bad egg that drops down the garbage chute. Veruca wants one of the geese, big shocker, but by this point is tired with just saying what she wants. No, she’s going to SING it now! Interesting that out of all the kids she gets a song to herself, but at least Julie Cole is a decent singer and “I Want It Now” is a catchy song. Veruca alternates between listing all the crazy things she wants for a party to be thrown for her immediately and rampaging through the room destroying everything in sight. Through it all Wonka stands there calmly as if nothing were happening because you can tell by now he just knows what’s going to happen. Veruca climbs on to an egg-dicator to make her final demands and is immediately dropped down the chute. Wonka says what we’re all thinking: “She was a bad egg.”
Mr. Salt is understandably horrified when he’s informed that the chute heads directly for the incinerator and Roy Kinnear sells the hell out of it, laughing hysterically out of disbelief before sprinting to the rescue. He hopes to grab her on the off-chance that she’s merely stuck but ends up falling in himself. Charlie is worried about them both being incinerated, but Wonka assures him that it’s only lit every other day so they have a fifty-fifty chance of landing face first in day-old garbage. Grandpa Joe remarks that regardless of the outcome, Mr. Salt got one good thing out of it – Veruca went first. Then the Oompa Loompas come in and sing their reprise, only this time they not only blame Veruca for her bratty behavior but her parents for making her this way, an important distinction to make from the others that look down solely on the children for how they are.
With only Charlie and Mike left, Wonka continues the tour on the Wonkamobile, a fun little car that runs on all kinds of fizzy bubbly drinks but burps out soap suds all over the riders. Does it serve a purpose? Not really, but like the fizzy lifting drinks it’s all in good fun. As Wonka himself sings “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”
The next room in the factory is one up Mike’s alley, Wonkavision. With a special giant tv camera, a bar of chocolate the size of a dining room table can be shrunk down, sent through the air in a million pieces, and put back together as an average-sized bar on the other end of a television set, which the viewer can reach through the screen and take. (Wow, Dahl, there’s not liking tv enough to ignore it and then there’s not doing the research…) Mike asks Wonka if anything else can be sent through Wonkavision, say, people, perhaps, and he takes control of the camera the instant he hears “maybe”. In a flash he’s gone and he reappears as the height of an average person on tv, which is incredibly small.
Mrs. Teavee implores Wonka to save her son. The solution he suggests is simple – put him in the taffy puller and stretch him out. The now comatose Mrs. Teavee is dragged away with Mike by some Oompa Loompas and they sing their last and most elaborate number about the evils of television and the simple joys of reading. Is it me, or does it sound a little hypocritical when a movie does this? Granted it’s not healthy to be glued to the screen and it’s good to crack open a book when you can, but with the rise of the internet and how much it kind of sucks to go to the movies now, it’s easier to stay at home and watch tv.
And with that, the tour comes to a very abrupt end. Charlie asks Wonka if the children will be all right and he insists that they will…but we never do see them come out of the factory or even learn what happened. This was another major turnoff for years because this implies that the bad children (and Mr. Salt) all went to a terrible death. It’s another dark undertone that consistently runs through this otherwise innocuous film. In the book we see them exit and the descriptions matched with the illustrations are rather funny – Augustus is so skinny after being squeezed through the pipe that his clothes hang off him, Violet is permanently violet, Veruca and her parents are covered in trash and Mike could now pass for an NBA player. The Tim Burton film did keep this in but the dour music only emphasized the grim implications of the punishments rather than play them for laughs.
Wonka gives Charlie and Grandpa Joe a brusque farewell and retreats into his office. Confused, they follow him in and Grandpa Joe asks when Charlie will be receiving his lifetime supply of chocolate. Both are surprised when Wonka flies into a rage declaring that they violated the contract Charlie signed due to some minor technicalities and stealing the fizzy lifting drinks, so say it with me now:
Grandpa Joe responds in kind (even though part of it is his fault) and tells Charlie that once they leave they’re going to give Slugworth the Everlasting Gobstopper just to spite him.
This was one more scene I didn’t understand or like when I was young. In fact, I flat-out hated it. I was a sensitive soul and didn’t enjoy all the angry shouting that came out of nowhere or how mean Wonka was suddenly acting. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way; Gene Wilder was told to act calm yet disappointed for rehearsal takes, but fly off the handle once the cameras started rolling so Charlie and Grandpa Joe’s shock would be genuine. Gene had formed a friendship with Peter Ostrum over the course of filming and didn’t want to want to hurt him, even going so far as attempting to warn him before the take started. Still, it worked because the devastated look on Charlie’s face is one that breaks your heart.
Still, looking at it from an adaptation standpoint, this is a scene that needs to happen. To hand everything over to Charlie simply because he’s the last kid standing isn’t all that satisfying. He needs to prove his worth with no guarantee of reward in order to give himself, and by extension the audience, the ending we deserve. Finally presented with an ultimatum, Charlie hesitates. The choice is an obvious one. One look at his face and you can tell how much he wants to make the selfish choice.
And yet he doesn’t.
Because even after having his hopes utterly crushed right in front of him, even after being derided and spat on by the man he idolized, even with the allure of freeing his family from poverty, Charlie just can’t bring himself to betray Mr. Wonka. The temptation may be strong, but he is too good to give into it.
Timidly, he walks back up to Wonka, places the Gobstopper on the desk and leaves.
Wonka faces Charlie beaming with pride and spins him around in ecstasy. He begs Charlie’s forgiveness and tells him that the Gobstoppers were all part of a final test, one in which Slugworth – or rather a man whom Wonka hired to pose as Slugworth – was a part of. The chocolate he promised is all his, but that’s not the best part. He invites Charlie and Grandpa Joe aboard his Great Glass Wonkavator, an elevator shaped like a rocket that can go anywhere in the factory. Up until now he’s pressed every button but the big red one, which launches them upward until they crash through the roof and fly high above the city.
While up in the air, Wonka asks Charlie if he enjoyed the factory and is happy to hear he did, because that is the grand prize. Long ago he realized that he couldn’t go on forever and didn’t want to (oh god, Gene…) and he knew that he had to find someone who could run the factory without him. An adult would want to do things their own way instead of his, so he sought a child with a pure heart who was willing to learn and create. The factory now belongs to Charlie and his family can move in with him. With everything all wrapped up in a package as sweet as candy, Wonka reminds Charlie to never forget what happened to the man who got everything he ever wanted: “He lived happily ever after.”
And there you have it, a movie much like a bar of chocolate itself; sweet, dark, nutty, and liable to cause nightmares if consumed past bedtime. Unlike most candy, however, there is no expiration date. It is a timeless story with characters I enjoy revisiting over and over. Harper Goff’s production design cements what era this film was made in but also makes it bright, colorful and iconic. The script does a wonderful job capturing the spirit and heart of the book even if it’s not adapted word for word. Roald Dahl worked on the original screenplay but despised the changes made behind his back like the Slugworth subplot and the fizzy lifting drinks scene, and he believed they put more emphasis on Willy Wonka than Charlie. As much as I admire Dahl, I don’t think he could have been more wrong. For one thing, the only boost that Wonka has over Charlie is that his name is in the title. Second, when all works are adapted into a different medium, changes must be made. It’s a widely known but rarely accepted fact. Try adapting a story that mostly involves people walking through a factory without some kind of long-running conflict and make it interesting. Even Tim Burton knew how difficult it was. I still heartily recommend the original story, but this movie has more than earned its place in cinematic history. Watch it as soon as you can (and with a truckload of candy to enjoy it with if possible).
Thank you for reading. If you like what you see and want more reviews, vote for what movie you want me to look at next by leaving it in the comments or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, you can only vote once a month. The list of movies available to vote for are under “What’s On the Shelf”.
Dedicated to the maker of music and the dreamer of dreams, Jim, Dr. Frankenstein, Leopold Bloom, and the other characters that made people smile. Rest in Peace, Gene.