Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Posted by on Dec 10, 2011 in The Best of the Best | 2 comments


Disclaimer: Like Wonka’s candy, this film is quite sweet.

Though Roald Dahl, the author of the book on which this movie is based, hated Mel Stuart’s cinematic adaptation, Willy Wonka is a brilliant and much-loved film that acts as a rich musical, dark comedy, whimsical fantasy, and, strangely enough, a commentary on class with parallels to Nazism too frequent to ignore.

We come into the delicious picture as the school bell rings and children rush to greet the cashier at the candy store, who promptly covers them in singsong and sugary delights from famously secretive chocolatier Willy Wonka. That is, all but poor working class Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), who has to finish a paper route and has no money for candy. When he gets back to his humble abode, we meet his mother and four grandparents (who haven’t left bed in 20 years) who enjoy a cabbage water dinner. According to rumor, Wonka locked up his factory long ago to prevent spies from stealing his recipes – most notably rival candyman Slugworth – but one day he decides to open up his factory to five children (each with a family member) that find golden tickets in his candy bars. The winners are rotund Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), spoiled Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), apathetic Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen), talkative Violet Beuregarde (Denise Nickerson), and, of course, Charlie.

The rest of the film takes us on a wild journey through the factory from a chocolate waterfall, horrific boat ride, car wash, and glass elevator, as one-by-one the children drop like flies. Meanwhile Wonka introduces us to his creations, including the everlasting gobstopper, exploding candy, lickable wallpaper (with snozzberries), three-course dinner gum, golden chocolate eggs, and fizzy lifting drinks.

The film has rightfully become Wonka2a timeless classic (with Wonka-brand candy still available to prove it) mostly thanks to Gene Wilder’s incredible turn as the eccentric Wonka. With his metamorphosis from a cripple to somersaulting acrobat, with every beautifully delivered note he sings, with every line he steals from Shakespeare, Wilde, Keats, or O’Shaughnessy, with every creative excuse not to answer a question, Wilder embodies an impossible character that we never quite understand until the very end. It doesn’t hurt to have Oscar-nominated music by Walter Scharf, Leslie Bricusse, and Anthony Newley that includes memorable songs such as The Candyman, I’ve Got a Golden Ticket, Pure Imagination, Give it to Me Now, and those sang by the Oompa Loompas (pretty much all of the songs are fabulous except Cheer Up Charlie – ugh). Though Tim Burton’s recent adaptation is closer to the text and boasts fancier effects, it’s tired and pales in comparison to this classic.

As I mentioned earlier, however, it does carry a heavy load of Nazi parallels beginning with the fact that it was filmed in Munich and the costumes seem straight from the 30s. Charlie and his family clearly live in an invisible ghetto, and though we presume his grandparents are in bed because of weakness from hunger, perhaps they’re hiding from Gestapo. Meanwhile people say, “Nobody ever goes in and nobody ever comes out” about Wonka’s factory as if it’s a crematorium. As far as Wonka is concerned (or should I say Hitler?), his contest is similar to Eugenics as they wean out the naughty children (including sending one to the furnace) and award the prize to a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy. Perhaps Wonka’s mysterious assistant alludes to Himmler or Goebbels. While you may think I’m nuts for pointing these items out, I’ll mention just one more. The picture of the phony ticket holder from Paraguay is Martin Bormann, a Nazi. (Awwwwww, snap!)

But don’t get me wrong. Despite the laughs and array of repeatable lines, there’s plenty of Nazism. Wait a minute; strike that, reverse it.


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  1. Gussie Lawerance

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