Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Director: Mel Stuart

1971

On the whole I enjoy Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory but there are some aspects which drive me to distraction. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may be able to guess which aspects bother me – the children! While all of the children are repellent only one child really infuriates me and that unfortunately is Charlie Bucket. He is a wet drip of a child with a washed out feel to him, not helped by the poverty he is living in. It’s always a shame when you don’t connect with the lead character as your enjoyment of the film as a whole suffers for it. On the other hand I just love Grandpa Joe so at least there is someone to keep me engaged with the story through to the end as the list of characters declines.

“Although most children’s movies are saccharine, if not silly, Mel Stuart’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s popular children’s novel is a happy exception. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a juvenile black comedy replete with flash visuals, engaging songs, and an over-the-top performance by Gene Wilder as the title character, whose claim to fame is being the world’s greatest candy maker.” (521, R. Barton Palmer, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) To some extent I agree with R. Barton Palmer as Willy Wonka is far less saccharine than many other family films – a great achievement when the whole film revolves around the creation of sweets and candy. It certainly has it’s dark moments – I remember being terrified of the almost psychedelic flashing images played across the walls of the tunnel during the journey down the chocolate river, especially coupled with the slightly creepy song Gene Wilder sings. But for the most part they kind of gloss over the other more bleak aspects of Wonka’s somewhat damaged personality.

I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with my mum the other day and about a third of the way through she said that she preferred the more recent remake, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) by Tim Burton, which naturally set us off on a comparison of the two.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate FactoryThere are elements of the story that Burton was able to capture more believably thanks to the improvements in the world of special effects, most noticeably the chocolate river. It’s luxuriously thick and creamy in Burton’s version as opposed to looking like dirty brown water in Willy Wonka. Having said that the rest of the edible elements of the chocolate factory are far more appealing to the lingering inner child within me. To this day whenever I watch Willy Wonka I am filled with envy that I am unable to run amok amongst so many strange and wonderful edible things.

The songs are infinitely more memorable in the original and seem a more natural fit than those employed by Burton. Though I do enjoy the fact that you see the aftermath of the mishaps brought upon the children thanks to their despicable behavior in Burton’s version – one aspect that makes the film a more faithful adaptation of Roald Dahl’s original story.

“Like The Wizard of Oz (1939), Will Wonka is full of strange creatures, artificial sets, and lively song and dance numbers.”(521) My favorite part of Willy Wonka remains the ludicrous Oompa Loompas – so much better than the creepy incarnation Burton thought up. They have become a cultural icon and whenever I see someone with that trademark orange face and green wig I cannot help but be instantly transported back to the wonderfully sublime and silly world of Will Wonka and consequentially my childhood.

There are flaws to Willy Wonka, which I think are only noticeable because there is something to compare it to in the form of Burton’s remake but overall they can be overlooked and I am quite content to watch Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory whenever it happens to be on television.

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