When poor Charlie Bucket miraculously wins a golden ticket allowing him to enter the chocolate factory of the great Willy Wonka, he discovers a world where his dreams come true. But as Charlie travels deeper into the factory, his imagination, loyalty and character are tested by the strange Mr. Wonka, causing Charlie to doubt if promises really can be kept.
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“A boy needs something to hope for.”
Every boy has a dream. Honest, kind and hard-working Charlie (Peter Ostrum) wishes for a golden ticket and the chance to get inside a mysterious chocolate factory. And he wishes harder than any kid can because “I am different. I want it more than any of them!” Mel Stuart’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was released in 1971 and became successful for its ability to appeal to both children and adults. Based on the popular book by Roald Dahl, the film follows Charlie, along with four other children, who win a golden ticket and enter the chocolate factory of the reclusive Willy Wonka (the amazing Gene Wilder).
The first half of the film follows the hilarious frenzied search for the golden ticket. A newsreel cutaway comments on the public hysteria as boxes of Wonka bars are auctioned off, used as ransom, and ravaged by crazed children. Then finally, Charlie finds his golden ticket and chooses his beloved Uncle Joe to accompany him. As the gates to the factory open, a funny looking man with a purple coat and red top hat greets the hushed crowd. This is the Master of Ceremonies; the one and only Willy Wonka. Part lovable, part terrifying, Willy Wonka is completely fascinating. Gene Wilder brilliantly peppers his performance with just a touch of crazy, giving reason to why this strange character is so reclusive. He can see right through to the heart of a child. He can stretch the imagination and then snap it back forcing one to recognize her limitations. And he does it all with witty quotes and bizarre behavior. Willy Wonka is every child’s guide into the potential of their imagination.
The songs in the film are a treat, combining catchy lyrics with fun choreography and visual images. In Wonka’s “Pure Imagination,” he sings,
“There is no life I know
Wilder sings these hopeful lyrics with just a tinge of sadness, as he wanders away from the children and sits beside some candy flowers, lingering for a quiet moment. And none of the songs are more popular than the Oompa Loompa chants which are presented in psychedelic karaoke style, guaranteeing its survival in one’s head long after the viewing of the film. The Oompa Loompas and their songs are both sinister and funny, giving an interesting layer to the machination of the factory.
Entering the world of Willy Wonka is every child’s wildest dream and every diabetic’s worst nightmare. The land is literally made of sugar: gummy trees, cream puff mushrooms, candy flowers, gigantic lolly pops and a river of chocolate. Art Director Harper Goff creates a gorgeous wonderland of colour and magic. But all is not sweet in Wonka’s factory. He leads the children and parents into a dark tunnel and in a truly terrifying scene shouts, “Are the fires of hell a-glowing? Is the grisly reaper mowing? Yes! The danger must be growing!” The boat begins to shake as the camera gets close to the actors faces, creating a sense of panic and danger. Along the walls of the tunnel, horrifying images flash quickly; serpents crawling on human flesh, beheaded chickens and scary reptiles. And suddenly, all is well – there’s light, safety and candy.
The film works as a cautionary tale against greed, betrayal and self-absorption. As the children enter the factory, each child is warned (rather hilariously) by Wonka not to touch, eat or play with certain things. As each child defies these rules, they are transformed into physical manifestations of their vices: The gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner) is carried away by a river of chocolate. The impulsive Violet Beauregarde (Denis Nickerson) is turned into a giant blueberry. The spoiled, bratty Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole) is sucked down a garbage chute and the obnoxious Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen) is shrunk into a tiny ineffectual boy. After each rule is broken, the bizarre Oompa Loompas sing their hypnotic cautionary chant:
“Oompa Loompa Doompadee Dah
In the end, there’s only one man standing, and that’s the good, dear Charlie Bucket. Tested by Wonka, Charlie chooses honesty, responsibility and growth. And what is his reward? Willy Wonka gives Charlie and his family the chocolate factory. A truly sweet surprise!
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a film that remains a classic because it manages to speak honestly to both adults and children. While it’s a fun adventure into a magical world, it is still a world filled with danger, consequences and limitations; lessons which children are forced to learn and which adults wisely recognize. The film speaks directly to children’s imagination, where fantasy could exist alongside terror. Children can imagine it all, and the film allows them to.