I understand why Roald Dahl hates “Willy Wonka.” Surely, it’s nothing like his original novel, and I get why fans would hate that it strays so immensely from the source material (i.e. World War Z) but that doesn’t mean “Willy Wonka” isn’t a good movie. In fact, it’s pretty damn excellent, and manages to evoke a sense of whimsy and menace that’s invigorating and refreshing for a kid’s film. Everything Tim Burton tried so hard to do, director Mel Stuart and Gene Wilder pull off without even trying very hard. With a single gleam of his eye, Wilder pulls off more hints at a devious personality than all Johnny Depp’s white make up, and bad wigs combined.
Stuart’s film just seems to hit all of the right notes, exploring the mass consumerism of America, while also setting down on a poor child whose sense of optimism grants him the opportunity of a lifetime. Stuart takes time out to delve in to the life of Charlie Bucket, who lives with his mom and four grandparents in a small leaky house. When the enigmatic recluse Willy Wonka, owner of the world’s greatest candy factory decides to open his doors for select tourists, Charlie finds a chance to change his own life. Stuart is not afraid to focus on the more maniacal aspect of greed and gluttony, featuring many humorous montages of people all over the world fiending for a chance at one of Wonka’s golden tickets that will allow someone at random to enter his factory.
Just by happenstance, the golden tickets end up in the hands of some of the most despicable rotten children in the world. Or maybe it was intentional. After all, the entire tour of Wonka’s factory is based around welcoming a group of terrible children and giving them a chance to redeem themselves. Wilder isn’t introduced until well in to the middle of the narrative, and he explodes on to the screen as a mesmerizing and very interesting individual always packing a hilarious one-liner and annoyed response. Much of Wonka’s back story is enigmatic, but all we know of him when he begins his tour is that he provides great punishment for the greedy gluttonous children that peruse his wonderland of candy. “Willy Wonka” garners many wonderful musical numbers, including Wonka’s song upon our introduction to the candy land, and the opening “The Candy Man.”
There’s also the various tunes Wonka’s purple soldiers the Oompa Loompas sing whenever a child has managed to put themselves in harm’s way. Though Wonka’s world looks very mundane, his factory is hiding many secrets that are quite dangerous for our tourists, and he can only stand back and let the group thin out as the tour progresses. Director Mel Stuart is never afraid to let Wilder completely off the leash, as he packs in dire responses to the fate of the children. You have to love how “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” works as a family film, and an inadvertent dark comedy where death is symbolic. Take Veruca being dropped in to a furnace, or Violet turning blue likely being a metaphor for her choking to death on her gum. “Willy Wonka” is a children’s classic with brilliant performance, excellent comedy, and dark undertones still being discussed by fans to this day. It’s one of Gene Wilder’s best performances.