Wonka Bars and golden tickets, Oompa Loompas and a chocolate river, snozzberries and lickable wallpaper, golden eggs and everlasting gobstoppers . . . This was the world of Willy Wonka (pictured above) – candy man, inventor, and scourge of naughty children.
Like the Roald Dahl book on which it was based, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was a dark fantasy with strong ideas about the nasty habits of children.
The reclusive Wonka lives in his closed factory, churning out chocolates but never showing his face to the public.
All the world loves Wonka treats, so when he announces a contest with a factory tour and a lifetime supply of chocolate as its prize, Wonkamania seizes the globe.
Nobody wants to find a prize-winning golden ticket more than young Charlie Bucket, a poor lad who has to scrape up funds simply to afford two Wonka Bars.
As luck (or fate) would have it, the boy happens upon the fifth and final golden ticket, earning him and his Grandpa Joe – a geriatric slacker who spends money on tobacco while his family are forced to eat cabbage and who has spent 20 years in bed pretending to be sick but jumps out of bed and dances when Charlie find the ticket – a trip to Wonka’s factory.
The other four winners are a motley mess of miscreant moppets: greedy Augustus Gloop, television addict Mike Teevee, gum-smacking Violet Beauregard and spoiled rotten Veruca Salt. Wonka himself is an eccentric kook, a verse-spouting, purple-suited oddball who alternates between charming and downright creepy.
Inside the factory, the children and their parents discover a land of fanciful gadgets, diminutive factory workers called Oompa Loompas and gobs and gobs of wall-to-wall candy.
The children also learn the price of bad manners, as one by one they receive a poetically just comeuppance.
Augustus Gloop is sucked into the chocolate river, Violet Beauregard eats the three-course meal chewing-gum and turns into a big piece of fruit, Mike Teevee is shrunk after being transported via TV waves, and Veruca Salt is rejected as a ‘bad egg’ after trying to steal a golden goose!
Only the good-natured Charlie has a chance at winning the grand prize, a reward beyond his imagination.
Audiences in 1971 didn’t quite know what to make of the film. It had bright colours, child actors, and memorable songs from Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley (including The Candy Man, Pure Imagination, the Oompa Loompa variations and Veruca’s scene-stealing temper tantrum, I Want It Now).
But the movie also had disappearing children, a psychedelic boat ride and a candy maker who seemed to dislike most children.
It wasn’t everyone’s cup of chocolatey tea – it was a box office disaster, barely scraping back its $3 million budget – but those who loved it did so with a passion. Annual television airings brought the film a cult following, a kind of Rocky Horror Picture Show for preteens.
By the time Warner Bros. rolled out a re-mastered 25th-anniversary edition, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory had become a beloved children’s classic.
Julie Dawn Cole