A Quick Preface: Like many people, I was saddened at the passing of Mr. Gene Wilder. To honor his memory, I decided to shell out $5 to experience one of his finest works on the big screen with a like-minded audience: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I’ve seen the movie plenty of times, but it’s been a while since I’ve had a proper viewing. AMC’s recent decision to screen the film presented a perfect opportunity to revisit it.
I submit for your viewing pleasure (or displeasure…you never know), my thoughts while revisiting Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971):
1. The Bigger The Chocolate, The Better The Movie
First off, I’m thrilled I decided to see this on the big screen. As hypnotic as the riverboat scene always is, it is 100x more immersing when you see it on the big screen.
2. Delicious Opening Credits
The opening credits of this movie are straight-up food porn… and now I have the urge to mainline episodes of Unwrapped. How about the next time Hollywood decides to remake this movie (because once is never enough), let’s include a featurette on the home/digital release that gives audiences a documentary style look into Wonka’s factory. Or better yet, make the whole film that way, à la What We Do in the Shadows.
3. The Candyman Can’t cuz He’s Really Bad With Money
Generosity is wonderful, but the Candyman Man borders on reckless in his first moments on screen. He is extremely liberal with the children who come to his store. I want to know how he tracked that day’s profits and losses. The man let dozens of children just run around his store and literally STEAL candy. Then again, he was throwing it at them… Maybe it was sport.
4. The Lobster was Inspired by This Movie
Can we investigate the nature of coupling in the Willy Wonka Universe for a moment? In this universe (hereafter dubbed the “Wonkaverse”) we meet, not one, not two, but THREE couples who have exact same name. There’s Grandpa Joe and Grandma Josephine, Grandpa George and Grandma Georgina, and Veruca’s parents Henry and Henrietta. That’s bonkers! As far as I’m concerned, two elderly couples sharing a bed isn’t as peculiar as this.
Do you think that’s how couples are arranged in the Wonkaverse? Maybe this is the secret behind the death of Charlie’s father; he broke the social contract and married a woman who didn’t share his first name. Or maybe these couples are so self-involved, they intentionally chose a partner that at least partially reminds them of themselves.
5. Delicious Dramatic Irony
A moment rarely goes by in this film where the viewer is one step ahead of the main characters. We learn about the ticket winners as Charlie does. We discover Wonka’s predilection for sociopathy as the children do (more on that in a moment). We even encounter an entire species of humans that will one day serve as the inspiration for L.A.’s obsessive tanning culture and Donald Trump’s stylist. It’s a huge part of what allows the movie to work as well as it does. With Charlie (and Grandpa Joe to an extent) as the audience surrogates, we get to experience the flavory-savory world of Wonka with the same sense of wonderment that they do. This is true for 95% of the movie. The 5% where it’s not? That happens in Act 1, and boy is it uncomfortable.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory features a delicious moment of dramatic irony that hurts my brain the more I think about it. It occurs early on in the film and marks Charlie’s first of three attempts to earn that elusive golden ticket. Not long after Wonka’s golden ticket sweepstakes begins, we rejoin the Bucket household on Charlie’s birthday. That’s important. One ticket has already been claimed at this point. Charlie’s family can’t afford many gifts but they manage to squeak out a few for his well-being. First, he receives a red scarf courtesy of his grandmothers. Sweet AND practical, right? The Wonkaverse seems like a cold and uninviting place so a scarf seems like the perfect gift. The Buckets should’ve stopped there because what happens next is so depressing, I find myself questioning the motives of everyone in that room.
One red scarf later, Grandpa Joe speaks up. Not to be outdone by their better halves, he and Grandpa George got something for Charlie’s birthday too! That leads to the following depressing exchange:
GRANDPA JOE: And here's a little gift from Grandpa George and me. CHARLIE: I think I know what this is. (Opens the gift; it's a Wonka bar.) It is: a Wonka. GRANDPA JOE: Open it, Charlie. Let's see that Golden Ticket. CHARLIE: Wouldn't that be fantastic? MRS. BUCKET: It's not fair to raise his hopes. GRANDPA JOE: Never mind. Go on, open it, Charlie. I want to see that gold. MRS. BUCKET: Stop it, Dad. CHARLIE: I've got the same chance as anybody else, haven't I? GRANDPA JOE: You've got more, Charlie, because you want it more. Go on, open it. CHARLIE: Here goes. (He turns his back to them and opens it.) I got it! GRANDPA JOE: Where? Where? GRANDMA JOSEPHINE: Let's see! CHARLIE: Fooled you, didn't I. You thought I really had it. GRANDPA JOE: Never mind, Charlie. You'll find one. CHARLIE: Here, everybody have a bite. GRANDPA JOE: No no no, you eat it. GRANDMA JOSEPHINE: Certainly not. GRANDMA GEORGINA: No no no no no.
Let’s unpack this Greek tragedy of a scene shall we? Going in, we the audience understand the premise of Wonka’s game. You want to be one of the lucky few to visit his death factory? All you have to do is find one of five golden tickets, which are hidden inside five Wonka bars.
Five. Wonka. Bars.
That brings us to problem #1: Look at what Charlie’s holding. To paraphrase the late, great Sir Alec Guinness, that’s no Wonka bar. Ergo, this exchange is destined to end poorly. The scene continues as Grandpa Joe eggs Charlie on, “Let’s see that gold.” We cringe. Charlie rebuffs it with all the toe-headed optimism his little heart can muster. “Wouldn’t that be fantastic,” he says. That brings use to problem #2: Does Charlie realize what’s happening at this point? His hedging words suggest he wants to lower his family’s expectations for what’s about to transpire. Either he knows his grandparents bought the wrong piece of chocolate and he’s humoring them (seriously, what grandkid hasn’t accidentally gotten the wrong gift from their grandparents because they didn’t know an Xbox from a lunch box) or he’s just being logical because CONSIDER THE ODDS PEOPLE.
Furthermore, this brings us to problem #3: Does Charlie’s mother know what’s happening also? She seems just as defensive and hesitant as Charlie. But I digress. This is all child’s play compared to what happens next. In a moment of complete sadism, Charlie goes full Wonka. “I got it!” he yells. His family can’t believe it. Charlie boy found the golden ticket! On his birthday!! What a happy day!!! There’s just one thing: Charlie didn’t find it. In a character switch that would make Heath Ledger’s Joker go cold, Charlie proclaims “Fooled you, didn’t I? You thought I really had it.” You guys, Charlie’s a dick.
And you know what Charlie boy does next? He rubs salt in the wound by insisting his entire family eat this depression laden chocolate treat.
I guess what I’m trying to say is… 1) Maybe this Wonka guy isn’t so crazy for calling Charlie and Grandpa Joe on their bullshit,and 2) Wonka and Charlie have a hell of a lot more in common than meets the eye.
6. Codename: Slugworth
We also need to talk about Slugworth / Wilkinson for a second. What witchcraft does this man possess? He appears at the exact moment any time a new ticket is found and/or reported to the masses. Is he a secretly a mutant à la Blink or Nightcrawler? And if so, does that make Willy Wonka the Professor X of the Wonkaverse? Come to think of it, Wonka does have a team of people who do his bidding for the good of mankind… You guys, I think I’ve cracked this movie! This makes so much sense. This is a world of mutants; It has to be! It wouldn’t take much to convince me that the Oompa Loompas are all really one person who regularly clones himself like Jamie Maddrox. Well… that or the Oompa Loompas come together to form a Voltron of Donald Trump.
7. He is the Deceiver, They Call Him “Grandpa Joe”
Where did Grandpa Joe get the Wonka bar from if he’s been bed ridden for 20 years. He’s either living a double life and lying to his family OR he’s got a courier doing favors for him on the side, sugar daddy style. Sugar Daddy Joe has a ring to it.
8. We Are Missing Out on Some Way More Interesting Movies
Over the course of the great chocolate hunt, we see snippets of how the world is reacting to the news of Wonka’s glorified death trap masked as a global contest. There’s multitudes to unpack here and one can’t help but feel like we are getting short-changed as movie goers. Why? Just look at how many more interesting movies we could have had:
- A child inherits a chocolate factory? That’s fine.
- What about a wealthy wife who’s willing to sacrifice her husband to kidnappers over a lifetime supply of chocolate? That’s a much more interesting movie.
- Or how about the scientist who inadvertently invents artificial intelligence that begins to rebel in true Skynet form? That’s intriguing.
- I can forgive a lot but what I can never forgive is the quintessential 90s movie that’s just waiting to be unfurled from the bounds of this movie. We are teased with the prospect of a movie where the President of the United States risks certain death on a chocolate factory tour with his secret service bodyguard as protection. And if he dies, we instantly have a movie where Wonka is wanted for assassinating a president. You can’t tell me that’s not more interesting movie than what we got!
9. What If An Adult Won?
I’m just wondering. It’s very fortunate five kids found those tickets…
10. Willy Wonka: News Hound or Sociopath?
Mr. Wonka, please explain how you’ve heard so much about Charlie on the news when A) we all know he won the ticket one day before your child torture chamber session disguised as a candy factory tour began, B) said “tour” takes place at 10am leaving little time for fresh news output in a world void of a 24/7 news cycle, and C) as far as we know, no news crews smashed down the door of Charlie’s home to get an interview like the rest of those kids.
11. The Kids Are Alright
You know what the toughest pill to swallow is when you’re watching this movie? Except for Charlie, every one of those “nasty, awful little children” would be huge success stories in 2016. Veruca would probably be a fashion mogul like the Olsens. Violet would probably be the star of her own YouTube channel with millions of followers. Augustus would somehow turn a brief stint on Master Chef Jr. into a Food Network career the likes of which haven’t been seen since Guy Fieri. And Mike Teevee? In the world of Peak TV, he’d be one of the most influential recappers alive.
As always, please forgive my ramblings. They mean nothing.