“… Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory remains a phenomenal film.”
When I heard yesterday of Gene Wilder’s passing, I thought it only right to watch one of his films to remember him. Now I haven’t seen all of his films, but because of my age there is one film that has been with me since my childhood: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Based on a book by Roald Dahl, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory tells the story of a world that is infatuated with a candy-maker named Willy Wonka. When it is revealed that Wonka is letting five people visit his factory, the entire world flock to their local candy stores to try and find one of Willy Wonka’s coveted golden tickets which have been placed randomly in five separate Wonka chocolate bars. The story, more specifically, follows Charlie Bucket, a boy from an impoverished family. When Charlie finds some money in the gutter, he is lucky enough to have bought the Wonka bar with the final golden ticket inside. The film then shifts gears to a whimsical tour of Willy Wonka’s fantastic factory where Charlie and four other children get to see exactly how the magnificent candy-maker does it.
One thing that struck me, after having not seen the movie for about ten years, is just how bleak the story of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is. Of course you have Charlie, who is from a large family with no money, but the film goes beyond that. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a story that deals specifically with greed, often times exaggerating very real human traits for comedic effect. A Perfect example of this is during the beginning portion of the film. Not only is everyone in the world looking for these golden tickets, but we get to see exactly what lengths people will go for even a chance to find one. Ridiculous situations such as a wife having to debate with herself whether or not to give up her last box of Wonka bars for her kidnapped husband’s life, or a news anchor claiming that since there are no more Wonka bars left there is no longer a reason to live. These situations are hilarious to watch, but very, very dark in tone. This theme of greed is of course carried out through the film, with many of the children during Wonka’s tour getting a personalized Oompa Loompa song to outline exactly why they are a bad person. I’m pretty sure almost every single character has a “moment of weakness” (if you want to call it that) that shows their true greed, which brings me to my next point: every single character in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a piece of shit.
Adding on to this bleak feeling that the film has, every character that we see is, in my opinion, a terrible person. This is shown mainly through greed, which I mentioned earlier, but also in other ways that are more subtle. Of course this isn’t something that a child would necessarily pick up on while watching Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, but believe me it is there as clear as day. One thing that I love about Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is the music. Most people recognize the songs from the film because they have practically been ingrained into pop-culture, and that’s okay because they are pretty great. The music works particularly well because the film, at its core, is a story about wonder and fantasy; and nothing sells fantasy better than everyone having songs to sing.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory opens with a wonderful montage of candy being produced which is not only a perfect way to set the tone of the film, but also makes your mouth water. This kicks off the wonderful aesthetic that we get to experience for the next 90 minutes. One thing that kept catching me off-guard was the set design, specifically of Willy Wonka’s factory. Wonka is known to be an eccentric man, with the behaviour of a child (in a good way, this is why he is the best candy-maker). This had to be captured in the form of the factory where his candy is produced, and it was done perfectly. Wonka’s factory is not only the perfect setting for his film, but it’s so perfect that it feels like a character itself. Constantly the guests, as well as the audience of the film, are surprised with what exactly is going to happen next in Wonka’s factory, and constantly the factory is able to throw a curveball and show us what we least expected. This translates into even the ‘dull’ areas of the factory such as the research and development portion, or Willy Wonka’s office. This all comes together to create a wonderfully pleasing, as well as exciting, experience when watching the film.
Now don’t get me wrong, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is far from a perfect film technically speaking. The film is absolutely full of both technical issues, as well as special effects that do not hold up in the slightest. The film also features some less-than-stellar acting, but that can be blamed on the time (where acting was ‘bigger’, like acting on a stage) more than the film itself. These issues usually take their toll on the film, but interestingly enough I had no problem brushing them off when watching Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Maybe it’s because I grew up with the film and still think of it fondly, or maybe it truly is because the film is good enough to get away with a few slip-ups here and there.
Finally I want to talk about the reason I watched Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: Gene Wilder. When we first see Willy Wonka he is hobbling toward his factory gate with a cane in one had and a strained look on his face. As he gets closer to the gate, his cane gets stuck between two bricks on the road, and he pauses for a minute, floating in the air like a cartoon character who doesn’t realize that the ground they were standing on has disappeared beneath them. We see him slowly start to tip forward, and then start to completely fall on his face. This accident was then turned into a magnificent somersault, and Wonka springs to his feet with his hands outstretched and a smile on his face to greet the crowd. This not only perfectly encapsulates the character of Willy Wonka, but also allows us to see some of the physical comedy that Gene Wilder was a master at. Wilder’s portrayal of Willy Wonka is one of the more interesting characters in film that I have seen. As a man Wonka is eccentric and passionate, this is shown throughout the course of the film when we get to see his inventions and hear him talk about them in great detail. But he is also a very reserved man, having spent a great deal of his life locked in his factory, working constantly. Gene Wilder plays both of these sides perfectly and what we get is a complex, yet fun to watch character. These emotions, much like many aspects of the film, turn dark and we get to see Willy Wonka in a new light. Of course I am talking about the iconic tunnel scene, which is much darker than it probably should be, but also the ‘you lose’ scene. Both of these instances show us parts of the character that we haven’t seen before. Even though we were just introduced to this man, we start to get comfortable with him thinking that we understand him at his core. These scenes take that notion and throw it out the window by showing us that Wonka is much more complex than we thought. Of course this is so impactful because of Gene Wilder’s performance, who plays the character of Willy Wonka with a certain gravitas that you would not expect to see in such a character.
Ultimately Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is simultaneously a tragic story, and an uplifting one. With beautiful music, wonderful set design, a complex story, and a spectacular performance by Gene Wilder Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory remains a phenomenal film.
I give Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory an A
And to Gene Wilder, I’m sure I speak for quite a few people when I say thank you for bringing this character to life and sharing his joy with the world for not only one, but multiple generations. You will be missed.