Directed By: Mel Stuart
Starring: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum
Tag line: "It's everybody's non-pollutionary, anti-institutionary, pro-confectionery factory of fun!"
Trivia: The chocolate river was made of real chocolate, water, and cream. It spoiled fairly quickly and left a foul smell
I count myself among the many fans that prefer 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to Tim Burton’s 2005 “reimagining”, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Sure, Burton’s film may be more faithful to Roald Dahl’s original story, but one thing it doesn’t have is Gene Wilder, who, in the ‘70s classic, gives a tour-de-force performance as the incredibly odd title character.
Each and every day, young Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) walks past the Wonka Chocolate Factory, which, despite being closed to the public for decades, is still producing delicious candy bars. Charlie’s Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) says the factory’s owner, Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder), grew tired of competitors trying to steal his top-secret candy recipes. So he fired all of his employees and, to this day, refuses to let anyone see his operation.
But that’s all about to change.
In a surprising move, the reclusive Willy Wonka announces that he’s hidden five golden tickets inside his world-famous Wonka chocolate bars, and whoever is lucky enough to find one will be invited to his facility for a grand tour. The first four tickets are found by Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), a portly boy from Germany who loves to eat; American Violet Beauregard (Denise Nickerson), a wise-cracking pre-teen addicted to chewing gum; spoiled brat Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), whose rich father (Roy Kinnear) bought thousands of cases of Wonka bars to find her a ticket; and Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen), who rarely looks away from his family’s television set. The 5th and final ticket is uncovered by none other than Charlie Bucket, who, accompanied by his Grandpa Joe, joins the others as they make history, being the first people allowed inside the Wonka Chocolate factory in many, many years.
And what a magical place it is! Featuring everything from a chocolate river to geese that lay candy eggs, the Wonka factory is a veritable wonderland of sweets. What’s more, the entire facility is run by a race of little people called the Oompa-Loompas, who, with their orange skin and green hair, have a knack for making up clever song lyrics on the spot. During the tour, some of the kids get into a bit of trouble (at one point, Augustus falls into the chocolate river and is sucked up by an enormous vacuum tube), after which the Oompa-Loompas break into song, each tune containing its own moral. When Veruca, after angrily demanding that Wonka turn over one of his geese that lay chocolate eggs, falls down a garbage chute, the Oompa-Loompas sing:
“Who do you blame when your kid is a brat?
Pampered and spoiled like a Siamese cat?
Blaming the kids is a lie and a shame
You know exactly who's to blame…
The mother and the father”
Tying it all together is Gene Wilder’s near-perfect turn as the bizarre Willy Wonka, who, at times, can be aloof, not to mention rather callous when it comes to the safety of his guests. After Veruca falls down the garbage chute, her father asks Wonka where it leads to. “The furnace”, Wonka replies, matter-of-factly. When the distraught Mr. Salt worries that his little girl is about to be burned to a crisp, Wonka reassures him by saying “No, not necessarily. She could be stuck just inside the tube”. There’s a subtle sarcasm in nearly every line of dialogue Wilder utters, and he occasionally blurs the line between genius and madness, perfectly displayed in the Ferryboat sequence (which creeped me out when I was a kid). From the moment he first appears, walking deceptively slow out of the factory’s front door, to the movie’s very dramatic finale, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory belongs to Gene Wilder, and he does wonders with it.
Admittedly, there were a few scenes in Burton’s 2005 version that I enjoyed (unlike the ’71 classic, we get to see the kids, after their unfortunate “accidents”, leave the factory at the end), but ultimately, this most recent take on the story of a quirky chocolatier who opens his factory to a group of children can’t hold a candle to the original.