Over the summer holiday in Italy a few weeks ago, I was in a bookstore looking for a few books for the family and I stumbled upon Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I had never actually read the book and knew it would be a hit with my 5 year old. In fact, I had mistakenly picked up the sequel, Charlie and the Glass Elevator, some weeks earlier but and wanted to read them in order. Ironically enough, on my return home, the aforementioned sequel is now lost somewhere in my shoebox-sized apartment so go figure. I reviewed Fantastic Mr Fox some time ago and propose to write a similar article now. As for the more recent Burton-Depp movie, I was underwhelmed by it and wanted here to focus on the one I saw and loved as a kid, the Stuart-Wilder original from 1971.
I think most of my readers already know the story of poor Charlie Bucket who, along with his loving Grampa Joe, visits the Wonka Chocolate Factory after finding the Golden Ticket. It is a wonderful story with a perfect pace – we are carried through the first part (up to the visit of the chocolate factory) with breath-holding pauses each time Charlie tries a new chocolate bar to see if the Golden Ticket is to be found. Once inside the factory, once again the story is punctuated this time by the elimination of the kids one-by-one until only Charlie is left. We get to see the other kids – all morphed due to the various misadventures they happen to them – and we get to say goodbye to the Bucket family. It is a beautiful story full of humor and love and as I strung the story along over four days, my kid was ecstatic with wonder and impatience to see what would happen next.
The film is magical. The technicolor gives me a nostalgic thrill everytime kind of like the Wizard of Oz. Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka is fantastic – I really thought his uncanniness was what Roald had intended although admittedly I am biased from having seen the movie first. Even if they are different from the ones in the book, the Oompa Loompa songs were catchy and fun. What I think is particularly amazing about this film is how it plays to the child’s imagination but also has an adult level where Wilder gives us a more subtle criticism of the spoiled brats that he eliminates one after another. Just the fact that in 1964 when it was written and in 1971 when it was filmed, this film was already warning us about television as well as children’s diets. I hadn’t realized that these issues had started to preoccupy some adults so long ago.
The movie presents a few differences from the book: that Charlie’s mother is widowed, great emphasis is placed on Willy Wonka (implicit from the title change as well), the “cheating” of Charlie and Grampa Joe, the disappearance of Veruca Salt, and the Slugworth character. I didn’t really have any issues with the dead father or the modification for Veruca Salt and I actually enjoyed the emphasis on Willy Wonka and the Slugworth as well. Roald Dahl was not of this opinion at all and these two points in particular led him to disown the film and withdraw the rights for production of Charlie and the Glass Elevator unfortunately for us.
I did a little reading (wikipedia primarily and as usual) and learned that none of the child actors did anything after this film. Perhaps it is better that way. In any case, it gave me the warm fuzzies to share both the book and film with my kid. I can heartily recommend the same for my readers.