Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), is a timeless classic and possibly the most enjoyed film for a family night in. Even with the 2005 release of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (after the book of the same name by Roald Dahl) was intended to re-introduce a new generation to the tale, the original version still appears as the favourite among children.
Nevertheless, adults are certainly not left out in this film. ” Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker” is one, of the many comical yet mature lines delivered through the film. However, as I watched the film again for what seems like the 100th time with my two young boys the inevitable statement always follows….
“Mum, when I grow up, I want to be just like Willy Wonka and have my own chocolate factory with Oompa Loompa’s too.”
“How wonderful”, is my usual reply. However, for some reason, I said nothing and started thinking of the character of Willy Wonka.
The eccentric Willy Wonka, is the ‘stranger danger’ man with a bag of chocolates that parents are always warning their children about, but what he’s really offering is a seductive nightmare in a kaleidoscope of ‘not quite right’ candy treats. Gene Wilder’s legacy role as Willy Wonka is truly remarkable as a manic crazed personality who is riddled with hot and cold emotions. His childlike outlandish antics of releasing deserved vengeance upon the very children he makes treats for is what makes his character so compelling. Wonka is undoubtedly a magician of deceit, proudly displaying his intent within his first appearance in the film.
Remember the scene where the crowd waits anxiously outside the gates of the factory? The bells chime as the crowd’s chatter ceases and the door to the factory opens. Wonka appears and the crowd breaks out in applaud. Dressed in a purple velvet suit and matching mustard top hat and bow tie, the eccentric Willy Wonka limps with the aid of a walking stick to meet his guests. The silence grows, as we all observe for the first time the glorified candy man’s somewhat unstable state. Wonka suddenly stops short of the gate as we hold our breath in a realization of his possibly exhaustion. Then in a perfectly vertical line he falls forward, summersaults and lands gracefully in a flamboyant stance and smiling.
Wonka reveals a pure display of deceit before our eyes. This is merely the first of many dirty tricks Wonka plays on the innocent children and naïve adults who are all enticed by the exclusive tour and promise of a grand prize.
The deceitfulness doesn’t end with Wonka’s first appearance. He welcomes his guests with a contract that surely reads in fine print,
‘Please sign so I can drown your plump son, blow up your gum chewing daughter, plunge the rich girl in the waste and shrink the mumbling TV boy until I get to the poor kid who is in dire need of a financial miracle’.
Nevertheless, his contract is quickly forgotten when his guests enter the room Wonka calls, “the nerve centre of the entire factory; the chocolate room.”
This room is every child’s dream to bask in an oasis filled with the glorious array of colorful oversized candy.
Wonka’s solemn song is visualized whilst his guests immerse themselves into cream and candy. Their feast is suddenly interrupted by the presence of the orange-faced Oompa Loompa’s carrying sizeable bags of ingredients that out weigh their body length: a clear indication of slavery at its best. With every disaster occurring, the Oompa Loompa’s burst into a musical score that leaves no room for narrative subtext. With every conclusion to their song, the Oompa Loompa’s boast of their happy existence…
“You will love in happiness too, like the Oompa Loompa doo-pedi-doos.”
But how happy are they? They appear when summoned, do as they are instructed and exit on request. Subdued and solemn, the orange workers sing out their words of wisdom without a smirk or a smile. The workers are expressionless slaves who are over shadowed by their tall and dominating Sugar Daddy, Willy Wonka.
What appears most interesting with the storyline is how a celibate man living among a bunch of dwarfs at his beck-and-call seems acceptable to us all. In any era, Willy Wonka would most likely be locked up. In many ways, Wonka’s chocolate factory is his own asylum. “No one goes in, and no one comes out” is repeated twice in the first act. This is his own sugar kingdom of happiness to carry out his crazed inventions and bad behavior without authority or question.
Despite Wonka’s bad behavior, this film is timeless and for good reasons. As I watched this film when I was a child, I can recall that feeling of excitement and wonder of what it would be like to visit such a place or even own a chocolate factory like Willy Wonka’s. So I guess it is inevitable that my children would wish for the same.
So if you’re a parent now or in the future, and witness your child’s declaration of determination as they too aspire to be their own version of ‘Willy Wonka’, you may also find yourself also questioning the character of Willy Wonka.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 2001, Rev edn, Alfred A. Knopf: a division of Random House, New York.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 2005, DVD, Roadshow Entertainment, Pyrmont.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory 1971, DVD, Warner Home Video, Pyrmont.