Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
It’s winter, which means you will spend most of your time hidden in dozens of blankets on your sofa, reading books or watching movies. This is the best time to watch classics like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I’m not talking about Tim Burton’s adaption with Johnny Depp which was released in 2005. I’m talking about Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. the musical fantasy film released 34 years earlier, in 1971, the first film adaption of the 1964 children’s novel by British author Roald Dahl.
Like the main character in the novel, 11-year-old Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) lives in a tiny house with his grandparents and parents. The family is very poor, so all his grandparents share only one bed while he and his parents sleep on a mattress on the floor. One day, the eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) reopens his candy factory. Five children from all over the world are to have the possibility to visit his factory and receive a lifetime’s supply of chocolate, but only if they find one of the “Golden Tickets“. The first four tickets are found by Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregard and Mike Teevee, whose colourful names predict their terrible behaviour. Surprise, surprise, of course, endearing Charlie gets the last ticket. Pure coincidence! The next day, the winners, accompanied by one of their relatives and Willy Wonka, start their journey through the incredible landscape of the factory.
The film was directed by the American film producer Mel Stuart and produced by Stan Margulies and David L. Wolper. Although the budget of the film was only $3 million, the engaging performances of actors like Gene Wilder or Jack Albertson, who plays Grandpa Joe, make it worth watching. Their acting creates a timeless entertainment movie which is enjoyable for a variety of ages. The heartwarming adventure of Charlie, which blends entertainment and a serious underlying moral, is everything a family movie should be: delightful, a little bit scary and very inspiring. All those aspects are combined with funny and witty dialogues. But the film contains many more features that make it one of my all-time favourites. When the children arrive, the factory isn’t as ordinary as it appears from the outside. The colourful set (the film was shot on location Munich, Germany because it was much cheaper than filming in the United States) opens up and leaves the children speechless. And the chocolate rivers, huge geese and a room with teleportation function aren’t even the strangest things they find. The factory workers are very special. Small men called Oompa-Loompas with green hair, orange skin and white eyebrows sing about the morally questionable children and give the movie its musical character (unsurprisingly, an actual musical about Charlie’s adventure hit the West End in 2013).
What makes the film so special, and also important for children, is the clear understanding of justice and who is good and who is bad. The main tenet of the film is easy: you get what you deserve. Undoubtedly, this results in some scary scenes that can be disturbing. But as long as you behave well, you have nothing to fear.
Roald Dahl reacted with disappointment when the film was released in the seventies. The author of well-known children’s literature such as Fantastic Mr Fox, The BFG and Mathilda, all made into films, disagreed with the deviations from the plot and the greater emphasis on Willy Wonka than on Charlie. Dahl, who died in 1990, would maybe have been more convinced by the newest version starring Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly and Helena Bonham Carter. In 1998 the rights to produce another film version were purchased on the condition that Dahl’s widow Felicity and his daughter Lucy received total artistic control and had the final say on the choice of directors, actors, and writers to make sure that this adaption wouldn’t be one Dahl would have disapproved of.
Nevertheless, in my view, the imaginative story, convincing actors, lovely songs, a visionary and creative set, and a story with an underlying moral make the old version a tremendous film about a poor boy with a big heart. The film opens up a world of pure escapism, not only for children. So, take your beloved ones, make your sofa as cozy as possible, and start your next movie night. And don’t forget to bring candy.