Whilst past Dahl adaptations like Matilda and James and the Giant Peach have been firmly aimed at children, it has been proved that his stories can be made to appeal to both young and old. The brilliant Gene Wilder stars, as we look at 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Willy Wonka opens with Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum). The youngest member of a truly working-class family, Charlie lives with his hard-working mother, and two sets of bedridden grandparents. The definition of paupers, they all struggle to exist on little more than cabbage water, with a simple loaf of bread considered a luxury item. Big hearted Charlie works a paper route after school, to contribute what little he can towards his families meagre existence. It’s an ordinary day at school for Charlie when word comes in that Mr Willy Wonka is opening the doors of his factory for one day only. The world famous chocolatier has been a recluse for many years, since a fallout with now rival Slugworth. No-one ever goes in or out of Wonka’s factory, and it’s a mystery how he manages to produce vast volumes of wonderful chocolate.
The whole world goes Wonka mad, as literally millions of bars of chocolate are bought up, everyone hoping to find one of just five lucky golden tickets that entitles the bearer entry to a confectionary paradise. Charlie is no exception, and dares to dream that he has a chance as good as anyone’s, despite not being able to afford more than a couple of bars of Wonka’s favourites. Four lucky children find tickets, could Charlie possibly be number five?
Willy Wonka is almost a game of two halves. Charlie’s under privileged existence, and his dreams of sampling just some of the luxuries others
Then Gene Wilder turns up, and the story is turned on it’s head. What starts off as a story of childhood innocence becomes a cutting look at what is wrong with the ‘youth of today’. Gene Wilder’s song, and the beautifully realised confectionary garden replete with chocolate waterfall are awe inspiring, a children’s fantasy land brought to splendid technicolor life. But despite the brightly coloured scenery, the tale takes a decidedly dark turn. Augustus Gloop’s gluttony, Violet Beauregarde’s passion for gum are their downfall, the greedy and spoilt Veruca Salt and square eyed Mike Teevee also get their just desserts.
Firmly a product of a more innocent time, Willy Wonka is none the less still
There are some good performances here. Peter Ostrum as Charlie Bucket is almost TOO sickly sweet, and most of the children and parents are passable.
A touching children’s story with wonderfully written songs, and a darkly comic undertone make Willy Wonka an amazing movie, with much for all ages to enjoy. If Anderson’s Mr. Fox turns out half as good as this, it’ll be well worth watching.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is on general release in the UK now, and opens in the US this Friday 13th November.