Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)

Untitled-1You can either look at Willy Wonka and see a friendly man, or see a creepy recluse who might lure you into his house one night and not let you leave until your parents have called the cops. He is just that kind of character, and his face — the face of Gene Wilder — suggests that maybe you should approach him with caution. Or a nightstick. Not to say that Gene Wilder’s face isn’t lovely.

He lives in his chocolate factory, the biggest and best in the world. It also happens to be just down the road from where our young hero Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) lives, with his four bedridden grandparents and slightly damaged mother. The first two-thirds of the movie are dedicated to Charlie’s pathetic life. His family is so poor that his grandparents have to share one bed. That’s four elderly people sleeping under one duvet. And they haven’t left the bed in 20 years. Don’t even ask.

Charlie works as a newspaper delivery boy, and he’s the kind of optimistic young lad who puts family and happiness above money and, well, chocolate. He might have dreams and ambitions, but we never learn what they are or given an idea as to how he might achieve them. He goes to school — how, I don’t know — and enjoys life like any other kid would. But as we later find out, there are at least four other kids who perhaps don’t enjoy life that much. Because they’re obnoxious little twerps who don’t deserve the gum off my shoe.

The world goes into a frenzy one day when Willy Wonka announces that he’ll be distributing five — just five — golden tickets around the world, hidden in ordinary chocolate bars. These scenes of hysteria and chocolate obsession are among the movies funniest, particularly one of a psychiatrist listening to his patient’s insane dream about craving a Wonka Bar and then asking for one himself. The first four tickets are found by Augustus Gloop, a fat German glut, Violet Beauregarde, a proud chewing champion (whatever that is), Veruca Salt, probably the first girl I’d euthanize, and Mike Teevee, a video game nerd dressed as a cowboy. Charlie finds the fifth.

The ticket is an invitation to Wonka’s factory for a day, and they’re each allowed to bring just one adult. Charlie brings his Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson). The scenes in the factory are the movie’s most inspired. They are filled with colour and vivid imagination. There’s a room where everything is edible, and it has a chocolate waterfall and a chocolate river — “No other chocolate factory in the world mixes its chocolate by waterfall”. There’s the invention room that holds many wondrous machines that bubble and smoke as if they’re working hard under the pump. And there’s the Great Glass Elevator (Wonkavator) that’s special enough to get its own novel.

The movie is based on Roald Dahl’s famous book, one of my favourites as a child. The title has been changed, along with some key elements. Apparently Dahl was furious with the changes and disowned the movie. I can see why. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, despite its bright colours and sugar-filled candy, is quite scary. It isn’t your run-of-the-mill children’s movie that cuts corners and provides you with cute cuddly teddy bears. Its Oompa Loompas are already enough to make you question its target audience. And then there’s the whole tunnel scene, which leads me to believe that maybe the filmmakers don’t condescend to children like other movies of the same genre do. That’s a good thing Mr. Dahl.

Best Moment | A few of the scenes during the golden ticket hysteria. And I actually enjoyed the tunnel scene, despite its scary nature.

Worst Moment | It’s not so much a moment as a series of moments. I think the movie would’ve been better if there weren’t any song numbers. Not that they were lousy; I just don’t think they added anything.

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