Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Charlie og chokoladefabrikken
For the past week I have been away on vacation. Not exactly the vacation I had imagined but considering the times it was fine and it was good to get a bit away. Just before I left, I watched “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” but did not manage to do the review. So, slightly delayed…

I know “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, or the story at least, from my childhood. Back then it was a Swedish or Norwegian cartoon with voice-over and was called “Charlie and the Chocolate factory”. I remember it as being an unsettling serial to watch, partly because it was one of these strange cartoons that are really just stills with the camera panning across them, but also because the Willy Wonka character was scary. The 1971 musical I never saw before now and that goes for the Johnny Depp version too. Those childhood memories were holding me back.

This 1971 version is substantially different from the story I remember. First of all the Willy Wonka name is already in the title, presumably because the sponsor of the movie had a chocolate bar called the Wonka bar they wanted to market with the movie (money money money…) but more importantly, Willy Wonka is lovable. Still strange and sort of mean, but in Gene Wilder’s version he is difficult not to like.

“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is a moral tale about a poor boy, Charlie, who through odd jobs helps his mother take care of his four bed-ridden grandparents. There is room for no luxuries in that home, but Charlie is a good boy.  In the outside world the mysterious chocolate factory run by Willy Wonka launces a competition: Anyone who finds a golden ticket in a chocolate bar wins a tour of the factory and a lifelong supply of chocolate. The world goes mad looking for these tickets and also Charlie starts dreaming, only he cannot afford to buy the chocolate.

Eventually the winners are found and one of them is Charlie who found a coin and bought a bar. The other four children are horrible though. One is eating all the time, another is a spoiled brat used to get what she wants, a third is self-obsessed and the fourth only cares for watching television. On the day of the tour all children show up with a family member (who is not so different from the child) and Willy Wonka gives them the tour.

The chocolate factory is a magical place inhabited by the midget workers, the orange faced Oompa-Loompas, and is more of a garden of temptation than an actual factory. Now Wonka starts weeding out the bad children…

“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is a musical and a fairy tale so realism is not where this is heading, but instead it allows for wondrously weird scenarios that baffles the mind. The point is that only a child’s wondering imagination can cope with this, whereas an adult’s rational mind balk at all the illogical and silly concepts at the factory. So, to pass the tests you need a child’s imagination and readiness to accept things at face value and be a “good” child. Will Charlie make it?

“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” worked a lot better than I had expected. Both as a story and on the technical level. The factory is a magical place come to life and the musical elements do not feel overtly disturbing, but most importantly, the acting all round is good. I had my doubts thinking of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, but in hindsight I can think of nobody else, and for once the child actors were good. Or rather, as intolerable as they are supposed to be.

This is however a family movie, so the real test is how it works with children. For the second half of the movie I was joined by my 10-year old son who got so much into it that he wanted to watch it from the beginning. Turns out there are a number of memes out there referring this movie.

This is a movie that still works today and a recommendation from me to children of all ages.



  1. If you haven't watched this in some time, it's easy to forget just how little of the film actually takes place in the factory. There's a lot of set up to get us there, and while I don't love everything that leads up to the factory, it's completely worth it once those doors open up.

    1. It is indeed. First time round, when I watched it for the review I got impatient with the lead up, but second round with my son was quite different. Here the lead up felt very short and I enjoyed every minute of it. Especially all the small stories like the obstinate computer or the kidnapping.