On June 30, 1971, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was released in US cinemas. A light film only in appearance because it hides very important themes, which we are going to tell you now. Together with the details on the novel that gave rise to the film we will also talk about the remake starring Johnny Depp, the star on everyone’s lips just as we write.
The birth of The Chocolate Factory and Willy Wonka
A classic of children’s literature, The Chocolate Factory is the novel that really made its author Roald Dahl famous in 1964.
Let’s assume you haven’t read this novel or seen any of the film adaptations of Mel Stuart in 1971 and Tim Burton in 2005.
The Chocolate Factory tells the story of Charlie Bucket, a little boy who lives with his two parents and four grandparents in a miserable house. Mr. Bucket tries his best to earn money, but his salary is not enough to support this large family. The only little pleasure in Charlie’s life is that on his birthday the whole family gathers to give him a chocolate bar, the only one he can eat during the year. And not just any chocolate bar: one of the most famous chocolate shops in the world, that of Mr. Willy Wonka (located a few streets from Charlie’s house).
One fine day, Mr. Willy Wonka, a chocolate genius no one has seen leaving his factory in the past decade, announces that he has hidden five golden tickets in five chocolate bars. These famous five bars can be bought at any store in any country. The five lucky children who find these golden tickets will be able to go and visit the fabulous and mysterious Wonka Chocolate Factory.
How the story unfolds
Together with the Bucket family, we follow the discovery of the golden tickets. The first is found by Augustus Gloop. An obese boy whose mother visibly encourages him to eat more and more. The second is discovered by Veruca Salt. Or rather from one of Mr. Salt’s employees who buys a pharaonic quantity of chocolate bars that he has his workers open, all this to satisfy the last whim of his “adorable” daughter. The third ticket falls into the hands of Violet Beauregarde, a chewing gum champion who apparently knows how to express herself only by screaming. The fourth comes with Mike Teavee, a kid addicted to television and plastic weapons. And finally, the fifth eventually comes to Charlie after several adventures.
On D-Day, the five children accompanied by their parents – Grandpa Joe as far as Charlie is concerned – come to visit the chocolate factory and meet Mr. Wonka, a very colorful character. As the handsome team of visitors quickly discover the wonderful chocolate factory, the children gradually leave the group, overwhelmed by their worst flaws.
In the end, Charlie remains the only child in the race and wins the biggest prize, the chocolate factory itself. Willy Wonka has thus chosen an heir to continue to create dreams with his enchanted products.
Charlie’s four antagonists share a common trait: they are poorly educated. Augustus’ parents make no attempt to curb their son’s overeating. They even encourage him. Veruca is the stereotype of the spoiled, capricious and angry girl of a decent family that no one says no to. Violet screams, responds to her parents and strives to outdo the others at all costs. As for Mike, he is obsessed with television and is therefore logically violent for it, as evidenced by his passion for gangster movies and his collection of plastic weapons.
These characters are caricatures, stereotypes of rude children. All this allows you to notice a clean break with Charlie who is instead generous, humble, benevolent – in short, overall much more intelligent than the rest of the gang.
Willy Wonka and other adults
The adult character who scores the most is obviously Willy Wonka. Visibly spring-loaded, this man is something of a mad scientist, gifted with a chocolate and pastry genius with ten wacky and incredible ideas per second. He runs, jumps, makes great moves. And all this energy is transmitted to the reader by the text that lets itself be carried along with its protagonist.
The strength of this character, and by extension of the novel and of the cinematic renditions, is that he aims to see a lot of inventions that are impossible on paper but that through his eyes are quite achievable. As through the eyes of a child capable of inventing his own credible world.
Grandpa Joe, described as at the end of his life at the beginning of the novel, rediscovers his youth and lives this adventure with the eyes of a child that he has cherished. He is able to marvel at the same things as Charlie. Unlike other parents who more embody the reason and pragmatism of adults. Adults are often not characters in their own right but a whole.
To the point that the narrator doesn’t always mention their name when they speak in panic scenes. We only know that “one of the fathers” shouts one thing and “one of the mothers” another. They are interchangeable when the action doesn’t focus on children.
Reception of the novel
A few years ago, Roald Dahl’s family publicly apologized to the Jewish community for the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel insults that the author made and maintained during his lifetime. The issue of racism was also raised in The Chocolate Factory.
The point of crystallization is in the description of the Oompa-Loompas, the workers of Willy Wonka. In the first version, the portrait that the author paints of these people comes largely from racist clichés. For example, the Oompa-Loompa come from Africa, “deep in the African bush”; they live in trees, which is explained as a survival necessity due to their small size.
They are also starving, not feeding adequately before Mr. Wonka arrives. Even their boss agrees to follow Willy Wonka in exchange for cocoa beans and unlimited chocolate as a meal; they also spend their time singing and dancing;
As soon as it was published, the description of these characters raised doubts in many people. This is why Roald Dahl made changes to his text to transform the physical appearance of the Oompa-Loompa. Their frizzy hair became long, golden brown and their skin turned pink. Also, they are now from Loompaland instead of Africa.
The cases of Augustus and Mike also make people cringe today. The character of Augustus allows us to question the theme of fatphobia. In the end, this kid’s only fault is being obese; sometimes described as “big and fat” however he is also called “hippo”.
As for Mike, the notion that television makes you violent is outdated. Of course, leaving a child in front of a screen for too long and, moreover, in front of programs not suitable for their age can have serious consequences. But again, things are more moderate nowadays.
Let’s not forget that it is easy to judge a work of the past with our contemporary eyes. Rather than shouting into oblivion, wouldn’t it be better to explain to children (the first recipients of this work, let’s remember) why today such descriptions upset us and are no longer acceptable?
Willy Wonka and film adaptations
Willy Wonka since the 70s
As we said at the beginning of this article, on June 30, 1971, the first film based on Dahl’s novel was released. It is a musical film, directed by Mel Stuart and starring Gene Wilder in the role of Willy Wonka. The shooting of this Hollywood movie was actually done in Munich. Against Dahl’s wishes, some story changes were made in the making of the film, which led to Dahl disavowing the film.
In 1972, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and actor Gene Wilder for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy Film. The film remained in obscurity until the 1980s, when it then became a cult film for several generations, even today, especially thanks to repeated television shows, especially during the Christmas period.
Marilyn Manson must have been very impressed too because his song Everlasting Cocksucker (Remix) featured on the first uncensored version of the 1995 Smells Like Children album, contains unauthorized samples from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Marilyn Manson also allows us to connect with Tim Burton‘s 2005 film adaptation, starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka.
Warner Bros. Pictures bought the rights to a film adaptation of The Chocolate Factory in 1999, with Gary Ross expected to direct. John C. Reilly expressed his interest in playing Willy Wonka and in 2001 Marilyn Manson claimed he had to be cast for the part.
And in 2000
In 2003, however, it was Tim Burton who was hired to direct and Manson was not part of the project.
As confirmed by notstarring.com, among the various names discarded for the film are Jim Carrey, Nicholas Cage, Michael Keaton and Christopher Walken. The film’s producers had thought of Robert De Niro in the role of Willy Wonka but Burton was already intent on hiring Johnny Depp, his iconic actor. Speaking of iconic things, Depp was also the creator of the character’s hair, drawing inspiration from Anna Wintour (like the Devil Wears Prada), from whom he also borrows his famous glasses.
The soundtrack was written by Danny Elfman, a former Burton collaborator on numerous occasions.
The film was a huge box office success and garnered numerous nominations for major film awards.
In conclusion, did we make you want to see these films or read the novel from which they were based again? Or do you just want to eat a bar of chocolate? If you really want that Wonka, you can buy it now, here! https://www.amazon.it/Willy-Wonka-Chocolate-chocolate-Amazon/dp/B07PWJ68S1