A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 460 – Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory – June 3rd, 2011

I’ve been trying to whittle down the remaining list of movies we own that I haven’t seen. When we started this project it was a vast number. I think I’d seen maybe 60% of what we owned. And when we started out I wasn’t paying particular attention to distributing what I’d seen and what I hadn’t evenly amongst our days. Now I make an effort. And out of the 150 or so movies left, there’s a 20 movie gap in favor of what I’ve seen. So I think I can afford an old favorite or two before we go popping in things that will make me angry or annoyed. And tonight, after a long day of prodding HTML into shape at work, I needed an old favorite. Something comforting and familiar and fun. This fit the bill perfectly.

We actually purchased this after we purchased the remake with Johnny Depp and Freddie Highmore. While I’d seen it numerous times – enough to know most of the songs by heart and have some lines in my daily reference lexicon – we hadn’t ever gotten around to buying it. This happens in our collection. It’s led to some awkward holes. I mean, we still don’t own Clerks for some reason I can’t fathom. So strange. But I purposefully set out to get this after be got the remake and I realized I didn’t want to watch it without watching this first. I’ll get to talk about the remake tomorrow but tonight belongs to the classic.

I don’t recall when I first saw this movie but I’m fairly sure it wasn’t at home. Perhaps at a friend’s house at a sleepover or something. I really don’t know. What I do know is that I was utterly captivated by Gene Wilder in it. And that I had a Grandpa Joe of my own, and missed him terribly by the time I saw this movie (he died when I was very young) and while he didn’t really look anything like Jack Albertson, I couldn’t help but connect them in my head. So I loved this movie and not just for the wonders inside Wonka’s factory. I mean, I loved those too, but the set-up drew me in first. Charlie with his impoverished life where a loaf of bread means a feast, suddenly winning one of five rare chances to go inside a magical candy factory? That’s a great hook!

Now, I’m going to admit something that’s as close to heresy as I can get in my profession: I’m not really all that enamored of Roald Dahl. I’m sorry, okay? I like my fantasy with a little less whimsy. They’re fun stories and all, but there was always something about his books that didn’t quite click for me. The movie adaptations are hit-or-miss. I really love this movie but I’m not at all fond of James and the Giant Peach and I could take or leave The Witches. So going into this movie it’s not that I have any particular love for the book. It’s just that I really enjoy the performances of the cast here. Gene Wilder deserves special mention and I’ll get to him in a moment, but really, I love all the children who play the five lead roles. Only one of them (Julia Dawn Cole, who played Veruca) seems to have kept on in the acting business, but they all did lovely jobs here. And of course Jack Albertson was fantastic as Grandpa Joe.

But then there’s Gene Wilder. The thing I truly love about Wilder is his ability to portray quiet wildness. He can give a perfectly reasonable look, sitting as calmly as you please, and still give the impression of barely restrained glee or panic. It imbues this particular character with an unpredictability that really suits him. And while the IMDB trivia claims that Wilder made Wonka unpredictable on purpose, I think he couldn’t have helped but do so. The combination of the character with Wilder’s strange calm energy was going to work towards that anyhow. It was an excellent bit of casting and I honestly don’t know if anyone else at the time could have made Wonka as iconic as Wilder did. I can picture other people in the role, but not playing it the way Wilder did and it’s the performance choices and the energy that make the character for me. Which in turn is what makes the movie for me.

Not that there’s not plenty more to enjoy about the movie. It’s just that without Wilder as Wonka I think it just would have been fun but not necessarily magical. It would have been a nice little children’s fantasy musical with a whole lot of candy and that would have been that. Perfectly enjoyable. But it turned out to be more than that. To be honest, I could do without a couple of the songs. Cheer Up Charlie slows the movie to a crawl for me and it could be excised and I’d never miss it. I mean, the songs aren’t the highlight of the movie for me. They do keep the pace up in many parts, and a few of them are pretty good earworms. I’ve Got a Golden Ticket will get stuck in my head whenever this movie crosses my desk at work. The various Oompa Loompa songs have some great little snarky lines in them. But the draw for me is the build-up to the factory tour and then the reveal, Wonka included.

I do enjoy the sense of humor this movie has. It’s really pretty sharp in places, meant as much for adult amusement as for kids. The whole bit with the search for the five golden tickets that will allow the finders to tour Wonka’s factory? It’s a great bit of worldbuilding and the way it’s done, with high-priced auctions and kidnapping with Wonka bars demanded as ransom? Brilliantly over the top. And it very neatly establishes Charlie as quite set apart from everyone else. He’s not opening hundreds of Wonka bars to look for the tickets. He opens a total of four over the course of the movie. And this is in a world where Willy Wonka and his mysterious factory have casino owners forging tickets to get a peek.

Once inside the factory is where the real fun starts. I figure most kids who see this would like to be let loose in the garden at the start of the factory tour. Who wouldn’t want to pluck a gummi bear down off a tree or eat peppermint grass? It just seems like so much fun. So much horribly unsanitary fun. Not that anything in the factory is supposed to be at all realistic. After all, this is a place that churns its chocolate by waterfall. It has hallucinatory boat rides and coat hangers shaped like hands that actually grab your coat. Safety precautions? Who cares about safety precautions when there’s lickable snozzberry wallpaper?

Now, I will say that the villain arc and the way it figures into the ending only sort of works for me, but I’m okay with it overall. I mean, it’s not so huge a part of the plot that enough time is devoted to it that I feel could have been better spent elsewhere. The movie shows us just enough of Charlie’s life beforehand and the world he lives in, then jumps into the wondrous factory and all that it contains. The villain arc is more a tool than a plot and I can deal with that. It doesn’t detract from the fun or the magic, and those are what make this movie enjoyable. It had been some time between when I’d last seen this and when I first saw the remake, so I’m curious to see how the remake will hold up tomorrow after having so much fun watching this tonight.

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June 3, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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