Holy Gene Wilder, it’s an actual, legitimate “throwback” post for once! 😀 (Yes, this is not that new Johnny Depp remake, the one that looks more like a horror movie.) This one currently stands as the oldest film I’ve reviewed so far but it might also strike a second landmark as being one of my all-time favorite films and one I hold in highest regards. This loyal adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s novel (Charlie & the Chocolate Factory), in my quiet opinion, epitomizes classic cinema. You cannot have a list of the greats and not have this title on it, it’s that simple. This fascinatingly bizarre tale of kids touring an eccentric candyman’s factory likely has gathered dust at home because, well let’s face it, there’s just a ton of other really great films from the era, enough for this title as well as many others to be easily obscured. But here I am going to jot down a list of reasons what makes this one of the best children’s book adaptations of all time, hopefully shaking some of that dust off those video cassettes in the process for those reading at home.
Today’s food for thought: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Release: June 30, 1971
So this is going to be a fairly difficult task: condensing my favorite elements of this wholly satisfying movie into a Top Ten list. Yikes! That’s like going into Wonka’s factory and picking out your favorite candy. I figured we all know the way this story plays out by now so it would be a little redundant to simply summarize my thoughts on the film that way. (Well, the truth is. . .lists are just easier.) So without further ado, here’s the reasons why this should be the only Chocolate Factory movie ever made (this is in no particular order):
- Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka is arguably the best example of a movie fully-realizing what a book only managed to create mere sketches of in the mind of the reader. In the eyes of a viewer, the great and unpredictable Mr. Wonka is brought to life in all his whacky glory, and Wilder could not have been a better fit.
- Bringing the Oompa-Loompas to life was an aspect to this story that director Mel Stuart did not fudge. (Cute pun, I know.) Each of these curious little. . . . . guys. . . . .added such an air of mystery and fantasy to the movie, and may also have been a superior version to whatever we may have pictured for ourselves while reading Dahl’s book.
- The moment Charlie discovers he has found one of the five Golden Tickets goes down as one of the most joyous, genuinely heartwarming moments of any film. The song he sings as he skips merrily down the street, carelessly getting in the way of whatever (because he’s got a golden ticket), that’s pretty classic, too. We all know that no one deserved this opportunity more than the kind-hearted Charlie Bucket.
- Mel Stuart’s film captures the beyond-desperately impoverished conditions within the Bucket household. But after learning of Charlie’s miraculous find, Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) leaps out of the bed to which he’s been confined by his ailments in his senior years. Charlie needs a chaperone for his tour of Wonka’s factory, so he asks old Joe if he’ll join in on the adventure. Another wonderfully moving moment. Meanwhile, everyone else remains in bed.
- Peter Ostrum’s sole film performance as Charlie Bucket was again, perfect. (This seems to be shaping up to be some kind of rave post, doesn’t it?) Whether Ostrum was unable to find other roles after growing out of being a child actor, or that he wasn’t interested in film acting anymore is another matter entirely but in this movie he made one of the biggest impressions. He encapsulated the sweet innocence of this very poor kid, a kid with a much brighter future ahead of him.
- Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is nothing if not a role model for kids who are trying to do the right thing, who are well-behaved, good-mannered and amiable, instead of competing to be the most attention-grabbing, materialistic brats that they can be. The morality play at work is hard to ignore as we follow the group on Wonka’s tour of his factory. The film visually emphasizes the differences between someone like Charlie versus the other spoiled kids, multiple times over. Violet Beauregarde’s body turning into a giant blueberry perhaps remains the most vivid example of a kid failing to earn Wonka’s love and respect.
- Who doesn’t appreciate a free boat ride, especially when it comes courtesy of Willy Wonka and his hard-working Oompa-Loompas? Hope no one gets scurvy too easily because the tunnel scene is one of the trippiest, most bizarre scenes in a film I’ve ever witnessed. Especially when I was a kid watching it. That chicken getting it’s head chopped off always got me. What freaked you out about this moment?
- Perhaps the character that has shown just how much this film has aged is the obnoxious, television-obsessed Mike Teevee. I phrase it like that because still images of the kid who plays the part in the Tim Burton remake show that this kid is nothing more than a videogame-obsessed, future reality-TV addict who trades his kicks in with characters from a monitor rather than having real-life experiences. The original kid, though hardly more likable, seemed to be preoccupied with Westerns and cowboy shows on television, a comparably more “innocent” obsession. The essence of the problem is more or less the same, but the outlets have changed, clearly indicating the shift in technology and what that is doing (and is going to do) to kids present and future.
- Even despite the fizzy lifting drinks incident, Wonka decides that his search for a perfect successor has indeed ended, with Charlie Bucket being the most deserving kid to take over the chocolate factory. The second book in the series, Charlie & the Great Glass Elevator may not have been quite as classic as its predecessor, but the way in which this film ends perfectly captures this transformative moment in this kid’s life and proves that truly good things come to those who wait.
- Few films can match the fantastical spectacle that is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. From the many classic numbers that permeate this fanciful tale of a poor kid going from rags to riches (but not in the way you typically think of); to the visual splendor of the set pieces (Wonka’s factory is brought to life in ways that Tim Burton wished he didn’t destroy with his version); to the performances, this is a film for the ages.
Recommendation: Featuring a childlike wonder unparalleled in many films of its day and in movies that have tried to duplicate the magic, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is an incredibly charming, unique production that somehow manages to find ways of transcending its strong source material. Not only that, but every time one watches this film, they are instantly transported back to a time of innocence that no longer seems to exist. A wonderful, wonderful movie.
Running Time: 98 mins.
Quoted: “Time is a precious thing. Never waste it.”
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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com