What a great way to get into the Easter spirit: an afternoon screening of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory complete with Rocky Horror-esque audience participation (without the swearing) and a goodie bag filled with bubbles, taffy, a chocolate egg, an exploding popper, and a glow stick—sign me up!
One of the first movies I remember seeing, ever, is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I saw it with my sister and my cousins (Billy and Dottie), and I couldn’t have been more than three or four years old. We saw it at the Madison Theatre, which is long gone. Here’s a picture of it: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/7383
I still remember what it looked like inside: it was a big open theater with a concession stand at the top of the seats divided by a half wall that allowed one to see the screen while purchasing popcorn. Today, it’s a lumberyard as it has been for decades. Sigh.
But I digress.
So how’s the movie? The screenplay isn’t totally true to Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel—he started it but didn’t finish it, and ultimately disowned the final version (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willy_Wonka_%26_the_Chocolate_Factory)—but it makes no difference. Director Mel Stuart keeps the film, to borrow from one of the songs, pure imagination and good fun. The sets are simple and the “special effects” are really low tech, like that trippy boat scene and the graphics accompanying the Oompa Loompas as they sing. Regardless, a timelessly magic quality that doesn’t need much comes through. Clearly, this is not the United States even if Charlie (Peter Ostrum) and Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) speak in an American dialect. One of my favorite scenes from any movie is the one in which Violet (Denise Nickerson) turns into a blueberry. And who doesn’t love watching all these shitheads meet their fate: Augustus (Michael Bollner) sucked into a tube, Veruca (Julie Dawn Cole) falling down a trash chute to be incinerated, and Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen) shrunk down to size? The color pallette is an awesome late 60s drab, and the clothes are amazingly gaudy. Everyone’s hair is stiff. The whole thing is wonderfully weird.
I love Wonka’s (Gene Wilder) deadpan disdain for, like, everything. The Oompa Loompas’ moralistic nursery rhymes against eating too much, chewing gum, being a brat, and watching too much TV are awesome. Some scenes are thin and quicker than I remember, but it’s a perfect movie for kids. It even has a happy ending. I never found it scary.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory still brings a smile to my face after all these years. Although I didn’t mind Tim Burton’s remake, I’ll take the original any day. Oh yeah—a trip to the candy store after the film (like I had) is obligatory.
In 2014, the United States Library of Congress deemed Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.
(Music Box) A-