As a child I had never seen this movie, only the 2005 remake starring Johnny Depp, and at the time I thought it was alright (as a child a lot of movies can seem better than they actually are, and nostalgia probably keeps them that way until we revisit them later on). It wasn’t until after that I had heard that that it was based off of an older film that came out in 1971. I figured that I didn’t need to bother seeing it, it would probably be the same thing but worse because it was an old movie. And in a way that is somewhat true, in that the story is, for the most part, the same beat for beat. However I found a certain charm in the old movie that the new one didn’t have (but I’ll save the comparisons for another time).
Upon opening the movie starts, quite appropriately, in a candy shop, with kids rushing in to buy the latest Wonka candy. The owner of the shop then begins to sing to the children of the candy man (Willy Wonka), all the while little Charlie Bucket stares into the window because he cannot afford to buy candy like all the other children. From here Charlie begins to run his route as a paperboy, and by the end he winds up outside the gates of the Wonka chocolate factory, so conveniently placed in his hometown. As the sun goes down and Charlie is looking through the gate this creepy man just shows up with a cart selling saws and cleavers and other bladed instruments, spewing some nonsense about fearing little people then telling Charlie that nobody ever goes into or comes out of the factory. And then the man slinks off into the night, never to be seen again. I realize that they needed to set some sort of mystique to Wonka’s factory so that we would be excited to finally see it but why this random dude selling sharp objects? Anyways we later find out from Charlie’s grandpa (Grandpa Joe) that the factory was shut down because people wanted to steal secret recipes and ruin Wonka, but a couple years after that the factory started making candy again.
Now out of the blue Willy Wonka decides to invite 5 lucky children (and one family member) to his factory for a tour, as well as a lifetime supply of chocolate. The catch: you must find one of 5 Golden Tickets hidden in a Wonka candy bar. The world then goes into a craze trying to find these tickets, and some of the situations created during the global frenzy are actually quite funny. At one point there is a man that invented a super-computer to tell him where the remaining golden tickets are, upon which the computer tells the man “Why would I tell you that? What would a computer do with a lifetime supply of chocolate?” Later on when the chocolate is becoming more scarce we see a scene where the police are negotiating with a kidnapper trying to rescue a woman’s husband. His request? All of her Wonka chocolate, at which she is asked if she can think about it, clearly unsure of which is more valuable: her husband’s life or a box of chocolate bars!
Eventually kids start finding the tickets, from the fat Augustus, who loves food; Violet, the champion known as a gum chewing record holder; a spoiled little girl called Veruca; all the way to Mike, a kid that does nothing but watch TV all day. And as each kid gets their ticket another creepy dude always come out of nowhere to whisper something in their ear. What is it with creepy dudes coming out of nowhere to talk to these children?! And this guy gets all close and personal and starts putting his hand on their shoulders. It’s just weird. These kids are all over the globe and he’s always just there. We find out later that in fact Wonka sent him out to talk to the kids and plant the idea in their heads that he (the creepy man) was a rival candy maker and that the kids should steal one of Wonka’s newest, secret candies, still under development, as a sort of test of their character (he wants them to steal an Everlasting Gobstopper so that the “rival chocolatier” can make his own). That still doesn’t make it any less weird to have him show up. Did he know where the tickets were going to be before they were found? Anyways Charlie eventually finds the last Golden Ticket, gets a visit from creepy-man, etc.
On October 1st, at 10 am sharp, the 5 lucky winners meet outside the gates of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, including Charlie and his Grandpa Joe. Out of the door comes the myth, the legend: Willy Wonka himself (played by the recently late Gene Wilder), supported by a walking cane. The crowd is silent as he hobbles toward the ate to greet the ticket holders, but then his cane sticks into the ground, Wonka does a roll and is spry on his feet! Turns out he was faking being crippled, which provided for another comical moment. From this point Wilder steals the show with his quirky and quick-witted performance as a crazy chocolatier. He always has a response, even if it makes no sense at all, but that just makes it even more comedic.
Upon entering, the guests are shown all the inner workings of the imagination wonderland that is the Wonka chocolate factory. A room where everything is edible, a river of chocolate, Wonka’s newest inventions, and a tunnel of absolute horror. For some reason as they hop on a boat and go down the chocolate river they go through a tunnel which can only be classified as nightmare fuel, or possibly fueled by nightmares. It’s dark, with various colored lights flashing about, and grotesque images appear across the background: bugs crawling across peoples’ faces, a chicken being beheaded, a close-up of a spider’s mouth, and during all this Willy Wonka starts to sing a creepy song which escalates into him yelling about the rowers rowing and how they aren’t showing signs of slowing even though they know not where they are going, but it would seem that the danger is growing! Then he lets out a bloodcurdling yell to top it all off, and just goes from being a funny quirky character to an absolute madman, a psychopath! This scene just makes no sense in the context of the film, and I imagine probably scared the pants off of some kids (hell, it almost scared the pants off of me). And then the film just moves on like nothing ever happened.
As the tour goes on kids end up being, for lack of a better term, picked off one by one by different things in Wonka’s factory. I know that may make it seem like they are injured or maybe killed, but this an innocent family movie, so they’re all fine. Augustus falls into the chocolate river, Violet becomes human blueberry, Veruca is a bad egg and gets dropped into the trash, and Mike get’s shrunk down and stretched back out in a taffy machine. That just leaves Charlie and his Grandpa Joe. Here at the end of the film Wonka tries to deny them the grand prize, but when Charlie shows that he will not steal and sell the Everlasting Gobstopper Wonka reveals that he passed the test, the creepy dude was actually working for him, and that Charlie won the lifetime supply of chocolate. On top of that, tacked on at the very end, Wonka reveals that Charlie will also become the new owner of the chocolate factory because he is pure of heart and will continue to make the candy the way Wonka wanted, so forth and so on. And then that’s the end of the movie.
Overall this was an enjoyable movie. Full of laughs and witty humor, very lighthearted and holds up well even 45 years later. It also gave us memorable musical numbers such as “The Candy Man Can” and “Pure Imagination,” the tunes of which are surely familiar even to those who have never seen this movie. However it’s not perfect. there are times where the actors seem to be in a rush to get their lines out, making some of the dialogue seem unnatural and stilted. Furthermore the ending seems rather abrupt with it’s sudden mention of how Charlie will own the factory, but not showing anything past that point, just “oh yeah and this is yours now The End.” Still, this film is a great classic that I regret not having seen when I was younger, though I feel that I could come back to it again as a feel-good movie.