#311) Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

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#311) Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

OR “Candy Savage”

Directed by Mel Stuart

Written by Roald Dahl. Based on his novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. Songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.

Class of 2014

The Plot: Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) lives in poverty with his family near the mysterious chocolate factory of reclusive Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder). One day, Wonka announces he will open up his factory to anyone who finds a golden ticket in their Wonka Bar. Charlie is one of the lucky recipients, and he and his Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) are given a tour of the factory by Wonka. Also on hand are the gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), the gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson), the spoiled Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), and the irritating Mike Teavee (Paris Temmen). Will the bad children get their comeuppance? Will Charlie live happily ever after? And what’s with the little orange guys?

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “surreal, yet playful at the same time”, praising Wilder, composers Bricusse and Newley, and production designer Harper Goff. Not surprisingly, the accompanying essay by Gene Wilder biographer Brian Scott Mednick focuses on Wilder’s participation in the film.

But Does It Really?: This is another film that’s too close to my childhood to be viewed objectively. “Wonka” is one of those movies where the imagery stays with you forever: from the bright, colorful chocolate room to the dark, creepy boat tunnel. Aided by some catchy songs and an iconic Gene Wilder performance, this film has endured year after year thanks to its inspired imagination and unapologetic weirdness. What took you so long, NFR?

Everybody Gets One: Director Mel Stuart had collaborated with producer David L. Wolper primarily on documentaries; his 1964 film “Four Days in November” about the Kennedy assassination earned him an Oscar nomination. It was Stuart’s daughter Madeline who suggested that he and “Uncle Dave” should turn “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” into a movie.

Wow, That’s Dated: The film mostly succeeds at being timeless, but there are some very ‘70s hairstyles throughout (looking at you, Wilder), plus usage of the term “freakout” and a reference to the then-current moon landing.

Seriously, Oscars?: A decent but not runaway hit with audiences and critics, “Wonka” received an Oscar nod in the now-defunct category “Best Scoring: Adaptation and Original Song Score”. Bricusse and Newley (and orchestrator Walter Scharf) lost to John Williams for his adaptation of “Fiddler on the Roof”.

Other notes

  • A quick word on the film’s ownership: “Wonka” was originally released by Paramount, but the rights were co-owned by Wolper Productions and Quaker Oats (Wolper had convinced the food company to finance the film and release their own Wonka Bar for promotional synergy). When neither the film nor the candy bar met their expectations, Quaker sold their share back to Wolper, whose company was purchased by Warner Bros. in 1977, making “Wonka” a Warner picture.
  • Most of “Wonka” was shot in and around Munich, so that American audiences wouldn’t recognize the setting and accept the film as fantasy. This all makes for an excellent game of Punch Buggy.
  • “The Candy Man” is a lovely song sung by the affable Aubrey Woods, though I would never have guessed that Sammy Davis Jr. would one day make it part of his act.
  • The interludes about the worldwide search for Wonka Bars are all individually funny, but totally unnecessary. That being said, my favorite line reading in the entire movie is the very German “Shut up, Hofstedder, and tell me where the ticket is!”
  • “Cheer Up, Charlie”, aka “The Fast Forward Song”. Sorry Mrs. Bucket, but you’re keeping me from the chocolate factory.
  • Günter Meisner – Germany’s go-to movie Nazi – plays Slugworth. Like many of the film’s German day players, his voice was dubbed in post-production.
  • Jack Albertson lends a nice fairy-tale quality to Grandpa Joe, and “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” lets him show off some of his old vaudeville moves.
  • Right out the gate (literally) Gene Wilder captures Wonka’s combination of warmth and mystique. You cannot imagine any other actor in the part.
  • “Pure Imagination” is another lovely song, aided by the film’s well-orchestrated reveal of The Chocolate Room.
  • The Oompa Loompas are definitely memorable, and entertaining enough that you forget they are an evacuee race doing free labor for an eccentric millionaire.
  • I just realized how little I’ve written about Charlie, the presumed main character. No knock against Peter Ostrum, but Charlie is such a cipher.
  • I hope the child labor people were on set the day Augustus Gloop was nearly drowning in the chocolate river. No wonder that kid quit acting.
  • That tunnel scene, man. You want to know why my generation is messed up? Because we all watched a chicken get decapitated for no reason in a kids movie!
  • I never noticed how many of the effects in this film are practical. With the exception of one process shot, Violet’s transformation into a blueberry is done entirely in camera.
  • Of all the kids, why does only Veruca get a solo? Even Charlie has to share his song with Grandpa Joe.
  • It seems like it takes more effort to make a giant chocolate bar and then shrink it down through TV then to just, ya know, make a regular sized chocolate bar.
  • Gene Wilder always played manic well, but Wonka’s outburst at the end takes the cake. Also, is this where “I said ‘good day’!” comes from?
  • So the moral is surround yourself with horrible people and you’ll seem great by comparison? What a weird little movie.

Legacy

  • For the record, Roald Dahl hated the film (which was drastically re-written without his approval) and denied Wolper the film rights to its sequel, “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator”.
  • “Wonka” didn’t become a classic until it was rediscovered in the ‘80s thanks to video rentals and frequent television airings.
  • Everyone has spoofed this movie. There was even a point where every animated show did a “Wonka” episode: from “Family Guy” to “Futurama” to “Dexter’s Laboratory”.
  • The original promotional Wonka bars never made it to the shelves, but an endeavor from Nestlé in the mid-90s was more successful, giving us Nerds, SweeTarts, Laffy Taffy, and at long last, the Everlasting Gobstopper.
  • 2005’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a more faithful adaptation of the book; well…up until Tim Burton starts manifesting his daddy issues. The typically private Gene Wilder was quite public about his dislike of the remake.
  • The stage versions are their own re-telling of the book, but have relented to including the film’s songs for brand recognition.
  • Of the five main children, only Julie Dawn Cole continued acting into her adulthood, but all five seem happy to reunite every few years to discuss their work on “Wonka”.
  • And of course:

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