Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
May 20, 2018 12:01 PM - Subscribe

Charlie receives a golden ticket to a factory, his sweet tooth wants going into the lushing candy, it turns out there's an adventure in everything.

Gene Siskel: Compared to other films for young children, "Willy Wonka" rates barely acceptable. Adults will receive more entertainment by dropping their children off at the theater and driving around the block.

Roger Ebert: “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is probably the best film of its sort since "The Wizard of Oz." It is everything that family movies usually claim to be, but aren't: Delightful, funny, scary, exciting, and, most of all, a genuine work of imagination. “Willy Wonka” is such a surely and wonderfully spun fantasy that it works on all kinds of minds, and it is fascinating because, like all classic fantasy, it is fascinated with itself.

AV Club: For all its slightly forced appeals to childhood whimsy and the freedom of "a world of pure imagination," the 1971 musical film adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic Charlie And The Chocolate Factory was originally planned as a down-to-earth commercial stunt. Quaker Oats financed the film to promote the Wonka Bar, a new candy-bar concept that never got off the ground. That may explain why Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (Quaker insisted on the name change in order to give its product more prominence, according to a featurette on the film's new 30th-anniversary DVD release) sometimes feels like a program-length advertorial—not for chocolate, but for an innocence and playful fancy that it claims to respect, but can't quite achieve.


For a children's film, Willy Wonka is surprisingly malevolent, which is most of its fun. "Well, well, well! Two naughty, nasty little children gone, three good, sweet little children left," Wilder comments with knowing, acidic sweetness, after the Oompa-Loompas have finished singing the latest misbehaving child out of the picture. But the refreshing malice and twisted whimsy only kick into high gear after 45 minutes of plodding setup and film-padding songs, including the classic "The Candy Man." Until Willy Wonka and his Chocolate Factory finally appear to liven things up, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory drags along drably, in spite of its stabs at absurdist humor. (Picture a Wizard Of Oz where the Kansas scenes take up half the film.)

Empire: Gene Wilder proves perfectly cast as the weird combination of the avuncular and the eccentric in Willy Wonka, just adding a layer of sinister to his aloof mad-inventor routine. Peter Ostrum’s Charlie is rightly goody-goody but not mawkish, and across the troupe of brats and parental disasters everyone fits the bill of these gross creations. And those orange-skinned slave-imps the Oompa Loompas serve up all Dahl’s witty warnings of the wages of naughtiness as magnificently choreographed tick-tock nursery-songs.

All this though pales in the face of Harper Goff’s art direction. With the exteriors filmed in a fairy-tale Germany, the factory is a childhood fantasy turned madhouse, a trippy, sensuous micro-world that mixes temptation with moral burden that each winner will learn to their peril. Imagine room upon room where everything is edible, where rivers runs with chocolate milk, secret formulas are concocted for everlasting gobstoppers and golden geese lay chocolate eggs, all Dahl’s genius is recreated in a primary coloured sheen like a giant sweet shop conjured up on LSD. The life lessons could be construed as trite, but with Anthony Newly and Leslie Bricusse’s chirpy songs and the dark stabs of humour, even teasing feints of child torture, it never drifts too far into the sentimental.

Den of Geek: The jewel in the crown, though, better than the Oompa Loompas, the non-nauseating cast of child actors and the strong production design, is Gene Wilder. This is as uneasy a central performance in a so-called children's movie as we can remember. Are we supposed to like him? To be scared by him? Is he on the side of the children? Is he a prelude to the Saw series? For the vast bulk of the running time, you simply don't know. And in Wilder's hands, Willy Wonka becomes an immense screen presence. It's surely one of the man's best three performances, and those aren't words written lightly.

With more and more children's films taking such a softly-softly approach to entertaining kids, Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory is destined to live on for a lot longer yet as a classic of the genre. It appreciates that children have brains, it throws in lots for the adults, and it might even have you checking out the price of the soundtrack album on Amazon. Most staggeringly of all, decades on it's still just as strong as it always was.

Slant: The film is a mess of loud, contrasting colors. Dahl’s successful stories are sweet and sour, because you sense him buying into sentimental impulses despite himself; this Willy Wonka, with no mood or visual sense to speak of, inadvertently becomes a poor boy’s journey into hell to watch as its ringmaster dispatches a variety of monsters, while the race he’s enslaved to produce his sweets occasionally looks on.

There is, of course, Gene Wilder as Wonka, the reason most people think they like this movie, and he’s a wonderful actor quite capable of hitting Dahl’s ambivalences (and he has a lovely entrance), but Stuart’s clunky stop-and-start pace and sketchy tone give him nowhere to go.


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posted by MoonOrb (16 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The description pulled from IMDB in this case is among the weirdest yet, as if it was passed back and forth through Google Translate a few times.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:03 PM on May 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

I wondered why movie Charlie and Grandpa Joe misbehaved in the factory.

? for those who saw the UK musical adaptation: they tweaked the Broadway production in which


at least 2 of the kids die(not sure about Augustus). Did this happen in the West End version too?
posted by brujita at 12:47 PM on May 20, 2018

I had the original edition in which the oompa-loompas were black, my 5th grade teacher read us the version in which they were blond and blue eyed, in Dahl's final version their race wasn't specified.
posted by brujita at 12:51 PM on May 20, 2018

My daughter loves this. I find it vaguely dull, except that after listening to the audiobook with her she asked why they had to leave out so much and now wants a 20-hour mini series. With cabbage soup.

The book is grimmer like all Dahl but Wilder is the only one who seems to have read the source material. I found Charlie's indifference to the other children's deaths chilling as an adult.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:54 PM on May 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh man, sorry to derail about the musical, but I have been wondering about how much dying goes on. I've only been able to listen to the soundtrack, which I quite liked, but it's unclear to me how much flat-out murder goes on (in the American version, anyway). No one's revival is mentioned in song.

Only growing up made me realize how petty the kids' infractions were. Violet likes gum too much! Augustus has Prader-Willi syndrome! Mike likes TV! And Veruca just needed a good time-out or ten. No injustice was obvious to me as a child, of course. There's nothing a kid likes more than seeing another, nastier kid get in trouble.

I adored the book as a child, but I didn't like the Gene Wilder movie at first because I got bored by the long intro and the sentimental songs that wander around before the movie actually gets to the factory door. But then, of course, who didn't love Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka? There's a Rifftrax audio track for this movie, with guest riffer Neil Patrick Harris, that makes the movie more fun where it drags. (Man, NPH would have been a great Willy Wonka on Broadway.)

(Minority opinion: I liked Tim Burton's movie. I wouldn't enjoy watching Johnny Depp again, I don't think -- the bloom is off that rose -- and the dentistry bit was very unnecessary. But the songs were terrific, and Deep Roy stole the movie without saying a word.)
posted by Countess Elena at 4:19 PM on May 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you've never read it, I highly recommend Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory by director Mel Stuart. I'm fairly certain that it claims the title was changed by studio request because "Charlie" was racial slang in the 70's. (I'd quote from it, but I lent my copy to a local library for a Dahl display. You can read about the book on my Dahl site here.)

Julie Dawn Cole (aka Veruca Salt) also published a memoir a few years back called I Want It Now!: A Memoir of Life on the Set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I haven't read that one yet though.

Some other fun Wonka-related trivia of late:

Paris Themmen (aka Mike Teevee) was a contestant on Jeopardy! a few months back

You can buy an eyeshadow palette inspired by the book

The official Dahl site published excerpts from Dahl's first draft showing some of the idea that were ultimately excised from the book.
posted by web-goddess at 7:21 PM on May 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

Worth noting that in the original book, nobody died. Charlie sees all the other kids and their parents leaving the factory when they're flying around in the Elevator at the end of the book. Augustus is tall and skinny from the pipe; Violet is back to the right size but permanently violet; Veruca is covered in garbage; and Mike is tall and skinny from being overstretched.

If anybody wants to see the original black pygmy Oompa-Loompas that brujita mentions, I've got a scan on my site.
posted by web-goddess at 7:25 PM on May 20, 2018 [10 favorites]

One of the first films that I remember seeing in the theater. The Jersey Theater to be exact and without adults, just me and my friend Johnny at the age of seven going to the movies.

I liked the movie at the time but I had already read the book and I remember annoying my buddy by telling all the things that were different.
posted by octothorpe at 7:38 PM on May 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Augustus is tall and skinny from the pipe; Violet is back to the right size but permanently violet; Veruca is covered in garbage; and Mike is tall and skinny from being overstretched.
I remember reading this version. Veruca (arguably the most annoying kid) gets off quite easy - she can just have a bath. Kid-me found this highly unfair.
posted by Paragon at 8:05 PM on May 20, 2018

Why does everyone want dead kids in their adaptations?
posted by Brocktoon at 8:22 PM on May 20, 2018

oh boy do i love this movie. i haven't ever been able to bring myself to check out the false Wonkas out there.

I saw it presumably on release at the still-open Coolidge Corner cinemas in Brookline, Boston. I was definitely too young and the dissappeared kids and psychedelic tunnel sequence left a mark.

Reading the book(s) (fuxake this has to be a books-too thread) a few years later was also fantastic, although I recall puzzlement about how the book illos did not match the film.
posted by mwhybark at 9:07 PM on May 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Anthony Newly? GET OUT! /Elaine

I associate this film directly with Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang (candy factory, musical, malevolent man in a top hat offering candy to children) and Dr. Doolittle (ANTHONY NEWLY).
posted by mwhybark at 9:17 PM on May 20, 2018

I associate this film directly with Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang (candy factory, musical, malevolent man in a top hat offering candy to children)

Not too surprising given that Dahl wrote the script to that one three years earlier! (He claimed to be acquainted with Fleming from their spy days.)
posted by web-goddess at 10:06 PM on May 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

I played Willy Wonka in a community theater version some years ago, and my favorite story from that production hinges on the knowledge that I am a wheelchair user (spina bifida).

A friend of mine was in the theater's concession area during the intermission of one of the performances. She heard someone (who was undoubtedly thinking of Gene Wilder's entrance in the film) say, "I'm just waiting for Willy to get out of the wheelchair in Act II."

"I wouldn't hold my breath," my friend replied.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:31 AM on May 21, 2018 [13 favorites]

AV Club: For a children's film, Willy Wonka is surprisingly malevolent, which is most of its fun.

Have they read Dahl? He's malevolent when he's not whimsical, and can mix the two, which is much of his fun.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:25 PM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Why SNOWPIERCER is a sequel to WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (links to fanfare thread, spoilers in main link).
posted by homunculus at 10:54 AM on October 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

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