“Little surprises around every corner, but nothing dangerous. Don’t be alarmed.”
Wonka Bars and golden tickets, Oompa Loompas and a chocolate river, snozzberries and lickable wallpaper, golden eggs and seven-course gum, Everlasting Gobstoppers and the Wonkavator. In a world of pure imagination, all things are possible. This was the world of Willy Wonka – candy man, inventor, and scourge of naughty children. Like the Roald Dahl book on which it was based, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was a dark fantasy with strong ideas about the nasty habits of children. It is also one of the most beloved children’s films ever created. Let’s take a stroll to the chocolate factory and revisit this childhood classic.
The reclusive Wonka (played by Gene Wilder) lives in his closed-up factory, churning out chocolates but never showing his face to the public. All the world loves Wonka treats, so when the candy maker announces a contest with a factory tour and a lifetime supply of chocolate as its prize, Wonkamania seizes the globe. Nobody wants to find a prizewinning golden ticket more than young Charlie Bucket, a poor lad who has to scrape up funds simply to afford two Wonka Bars.
As luck (or fate) would have it, the boy happens upon the fifth and final golden ticket, earning him and his Grandpa Joe a trip to Wonka’s factory. The other four winners are a motley mess of miscreant moppets: greedy Augustus Gloop, television addict Mike Teevee, gum-smacking Violet Beauregarde and spoiled rotten Veruca Salt. Wonka himself is an eccentric kook, a verse-spouting, purple-suited oddball who alternates between charming and downright creepy.
Inside the factory, the children and their parents discover a land of fanciful gadgets, diminutive factory workers called Oompa Loompas and gobs and gobs of candy. The children also learn the price of bad manners, as one by one they receive a poetically just comeuppance. Only the good-natured Charlie has a chance at winning the grand prize, a reward beyond his imagination.
Audiences in 1971 didn’t quite know what to make of the film. It had bright colors, child actors, and memorable songs from Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley (including “The Candy Man,” “Pure Imagination,” the “Oompa Loompa” variations and Veruca’s scene-stealing temper tantrum, “I Want It Now”). But the movie also had disappearing children, a psychedelic boat ride and a candy maker who seemed to dislike most children.
It wasn’t everyone’s cup of chocolatey tea, but those who loved it did so with a passion. Annual television airings brought the film a cult following, a kind of Rocky Horror Picture Show for preteens. By the time Warner Bros. rolled out a remastered 25th anniversary edition, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory had become a beloved classic. Much to the dismay of purists, the film was remade in 2005 as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp. Reviews were generally positive, however, and the film did respectable business at the box office.
Still, it didn’t quite have the charm of the original, and Gene Wilder’s portrayal of Willie Wonka remains captivating with each and every viewing. Did this film delight you as a youngster, or like some, did you find parts of it a bit too scary? Did you see it in the theater? Is it a film you still watch to this day, perhaps with your own children. Share your memories of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory with all of us in our comments section, as we tip our hat to this unforgettable film.