Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) Review – Pure Imagination

Here is some nostalgia. This is a book and then a film from my childhood and I haven’t seen it in years but recently, I’ve been thinking about the film specifically and decided to give it another watch. I have since figured out why I’ve been thinking about the film but I’ll wait until the end to tell you. How else can I get you to read the whole thing. I suppose you could skip to the end. But it would be your loss. For those still reading, plot time.

The story of ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ centres around Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), a young boy living in both poverty and a small house with his mother (Diana Sowle) and his four grandparents. Grandpa George (Ernst Ziegler), Grandma Georgina (Dora Altmann), Grandma Josephine (Franziska Liebing) and Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) are all bed-bound in the same bed. Charlie has taken on extra responsibilities in order to keep the family afloat, much to the chagrin of Grandpa Joe who wants Charlie to be a little boy and to not have to worry about ‘grown up’ things.

Charlie’s hopes are raised ever so slightly when master chocolate-crafter, Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) announces that he’s hidden five golden tickets inside his chocolate bars. The lucky recipients of these tickets will have the once in a lifetime opportunity to take the tour around his mysterious chocolate factory. With the whole world hunting for the tickets, the race is on.

The eighth word in the opening paragraph of this review was the word ‘book’ and that’s exactly how this story started out. As a book. Written by Roald Dahl, the book was called ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ as the story was centred around Charlie. As the screenplay was also written by Roald Dahl, the story is still centred around Charlie in the film but the title is different, presumably to emphasise the fact that Gene Wilder is the star although his character doesn’t appear on-screen until almost 45 minutes in. Speaking of Gene Wilder.

Before he was cast (believe it or not), the six cast members of Monty Python were considered for the role of Willy Wonka. Jon Pertwee was also considered for the role which would have been a very high profile choice as Mr Pertwee was starring in ‘Doctor Who’ around that time. After that; Fred Astaire, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and others were considered before Gene Wilder was approached. Mr Wilder agreed to accept the role under one vital condition. When his character was first seen by the winners and the press, he wanted to walk with a limp whilst being supported by a cane. The cane would become stuck in the cobblestones and when he realises that the cane is no longer there, he would fall forward, perform a perfect somersault and hop straight back up onto his feet. Mr Wilder wanted to do this for one reason. After he fooled the crowd, the audience wouldn’t be able to tell whether or not he was telling the truth. Mr Wilder trained with two stuntmen to perfect the somersault.

Willy Wonka himself is an enigma having locked himself and his candy-making secrets away from the prying eyes of the world. Since he doesn’t appear for the first 45 minutes, that means we all get a good luck at the other children who find the golden tickets. The personalities of the other children are over-exaggerated but there is a point as their worst traits are what will be their downfall.

Where better to start than the first finder, Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner). Roald Dahl seemed to be fond of placing overweight characters in his stories. Another overweight child that springs to mind was Bruno Jenkins who was played by Charlie Potter in the 1990 film adaptation of ‘The Witches’ which also stars Anjelica Huston and Rowan Atkinson. The point of Augustus being overweight would end up being that ‘greed’ was what gets him into trouble. When Augustus drinks from the ‘river of chocolate’, he falls in and is sucked up a pipe which leads to ‘the fudge room’.

The next is probably the fan favourite and biggest hate figure, Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole). This spoiled little rich girl has absolutely no redeeming qualities and her behaviour is only encouraged by her parents who promise her anything she wants. The worst culprit is her father, Henry (Roy Kinnear), an entrepreneur of some description who owns a peanut factory. His daughter wants a golden ticket and so that’s what she’s going to get. He buys thousands of boxes of Wonka bars and has his employees unwrapping them all in order to find the golden ticket. Of course they find it and Veruca is happy. For now. Veruca is the only one of the other children to get her own musical number which ends in her being dropped down a garbage shoot.

The third winner is chewing gum enthusiast, Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson). ‘Violet’ is very much the word. Her biggest mistake is not listening. Mr Wonka shows the children a piece of gum that is a three course dinner and Violet takes it from him. Despite his warnings, Violet chews the gum and when she gets to dessert (blueberry pie and cream), she begins to turn blue or ‘violet’ and expand, like a blueberry.

The fourth winner is Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen). I’m not sure what section of society he is supposed to represent. He’s just a little boy who’s glued to the television all day. Oh. I get it.

Once again, Mike just doesn’t listen and Wonka sets the perfect trap. He demonstrates how a bar of chocolate can be transported using television technology and ends up shrinking himself.

Watching this as an adult, this has all the hallmarks of a horror movie. A mad scientist invites young people into his home where he proceeds to pick them off one by one until only the good child that played by the rules survives. That’s how it would seem if it weren’t for Mr Wonka assuring Charlie that the other children would be put back to normal and maybe they would learn from the experience.

I would say the one aspect of the movie that became the most memorable would be the ‘Oompa Loompas’ who were as Wonka described them, a race of people who were living in a dangerous environment and so Wonka offered them a place of peace and safety. They work in the factory and help with the manufacturing of the candy.

My favourite part of the film is the ending. All the way through the film, the winners, including Charlie are accosted by a man known as Mr Slugworth (Gunter Meisner). He offers them a reward if they bring him an ‘Everlasting Gobstopper’, a creation of Mr Wonka’s that is basically a gobstopper that never gets smaller. Each child is handed an Everlasting Gobstopper. After Charlie is refused the grand prize of a lifetime supply of chocolate for tasting the ‘Fizzy Lifting Drinks’, Grandpa Joe swears revenge and suggests to Charlie that they hand over the gobstopper to Slugworth. Charlie decides to do the right thing and returns the Everlasting Gobstopper. That was what Mr Wonka was waiting for. He announces that Mr Slugworth is actually Mr Wilkinson and works for Wonka. The rouse was just a test and Charlie passed.

Mr Wonka reveals that he sent out the golden tickets so he could find a child to take over the factory when he is no longer able to. An adult would want to change things so only a child would respect Wonka’s creations and keep the dream alive. The factory belongs to Charlie and he can bring his whole family with him. The last lines are probably the best. Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted? He lived happily ever after. Makes me cry every time.

What with this film being a musical, there has to be some songs in it. All the songs in the film are original compositions with lyrics and music written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. ‘Pure Imagination’ would probably be the most widely recognised song from the movie along with ‘The Candy Man’. Literally everyone will have heard ‘The Candy Man’ at some point even if it’s not from ‘Willy Wonka’. In fact, Sammy Davis Jr wanted to play ‘Bill’, the man who owns the candy shop and sings that song at the beginning. The director, Mel Stuart, felt that having a big star in a small role would ‘break the reality’. The role of ‘Bill’ went to Aubrey Woods who would perform the song in the film. Despite being turned down, Sammy Davis Jr went on to record ‘The Candy Man’ and in 1972, the song went to the top of the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ where it stayed for three weeks. To this day, even though the song was written especially for this film, Sammy Davis Jr’s rendition is still the best known version of this song.

Now, I ask a question. What happens to any damn good movie when enough time passes? It gets remade. I’ve only seen the Tim Burton remake once and I wasn’t impressed. I like Tim Burton and I like Johnny Depp but all they did was turn ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ into another ‘Tim Burton’ movie. Another one for the pile. There was nothing special about the remake. It was another Tim Burton movie. There are a hundred Tim Burton movies but only one ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’. The only good thing about the remake were the promotional ‘Wonka’ bars that were sent out before the film was released. That white chocolate and caramel bar absolutely rocked.

With a budget of $3 Million ($18.6 as of 2018), ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ took in $4 Million ($24.8 Million as of 2018) at the box office which is a shame. For a film that is so unique and wonderful to just make it’s money back is nothing short of upsetting. However, despite the shaky financial return, the film was met with positive reviews with Roger Ebert giving the film four out of four stars. Impressing Roger Ebert is in itself an amazing accomplishment.

To close, I’ll give you what I hope you’ve all been waiting for. The reason as to why this movie has been on my mind and the answer lies in the premise. This film is about someone with very few future prospects who cashes in a golden ticket to go to a magical place where one man will make their wildest dreams come true. That might not make sense to you but it means the world to me.

2 responses to “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) Review – Pure Imagination

  1. I watch this every Christmas, now a family tradition even though it isn’t a Christmas film.

    Until a few years ago, I never noticed the kid getting smacked in the face by the sweet shop counter as the sweet shop man lifts it up. It’s a blink & miss moment, but quite amusing,

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve watched this movie for years. It’s a film that grows with it’s audience. You can appreciate it in different ways whether watching it as a child or as an adult. That makes it a true family film. Very few family films can claim that.

      Liked by 1 person

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