What is your childhood comfort movie? Like, what film do you go back to when you’re having a bad day and you need to lift your spirits? A movie that you can go back to time and time again for years without getting tired of it?
Plenty of movies fit that bill for me. But when I really need to lift my spirits, none can compare to this movie. The 1971 classic: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
That being said, I don’t think I”ve ever been able to properly appreciate this movie up until recently. As a kid, I just watched it for the factory scenes. But as an adult, I realize just how good the first half of the film is. In fact, I’d say that the first half is even better than the second!
Story: Chasing a Dream
You can tell exactly how iconic this movie is because I don’t even need to explain the plot. You already know what it is.
Charlie Bucket is a poor but honest boy, working hard to support his family. His town is home to the world-famous Willy Wonka, a mysterious man who runs the most successful candy business in the world. One day, Wonka sends out five golden tickets, hidden amongst the many candy bars of the world. The five who find them will earn a lifetime supply of chocolate and a tour of the factory, led by Wonka himself. Can Charlie beat the odds and find a golden ticket? And what mysteries lay in wait behind the factory gates?
It’s an exceptionally simple story, just what you’d expect from a children’s film. All the characters are simple and likable (or hateable, in the case of the other children), without a character arc to be seen. It’s an easy to understand story about good deeds being rewarded and an underdog rising up from nothing.
Now, there is one exception: Willy Wonka himself. This dude is beautifully unpredictable. At no point in the movie can you tell if he’s lying or being serious. He is completely unpredictable, which makes him a total joy to watch!
Granted, most of that comes from Gene Wilder. But we’ll get to that.
The first half of this movie is downright perfect. It moves at a gentle but reasonable pace, introducing characters and building up to the climax with style and grace. Plus, it has some of the funniest scenes in the whole movie! These perfectly display the absolute mania surrounding the golden tickets, which makes Charlie’s eventual victory all the more satisfying. From the man arguing with the computer to the woman’s kidnapped husband, all of these scenes are a perfect display of dry humor at its best! Unfortunately, you can skip these scenes without losing anything from the main plot; they’re basically filler.
They’re the best scenes in the movie, but they are still filler.
The second half builds on that perfectly. It takes us out of the realm of the normal and into the bizarre, wondrous world of the chocolate factory. Not only do we get some of the most visually striking scenes here, but the plot also takes on a fascinating twist! It’s a ton of fun to watch! Plus, it has the best music.
Oh yeah, I guess I should talk about that here, since it is a musical. It’s all fantastic! This movie sports some of the most iconic songs in cinema! My personal favorite is ‘Pure Imagination’, though I’ll admit that’s a basic choice; I performed it for my drama club during our musical unit (that might be the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever written on this blog). I’ve also got a huge soft spot ‘Candy Man’ and ‘I’ve Got a Golden Ticket’.
Though let’s be real: no one likes ‘Cheer Up, Charlie’. Like, literally no one. Everyone skips that one, including myself. It’s not a bad song by any means, but it does feel like a waste of time. Frankly, the movie would be better off without it.
This movie strikes an impressive balance. It’s entertaining enough for a kid not to get bored and clever enough for an adult to appreciate it. Unlike a huge number of movies meant for all audiences, this one is genuinely enjoyable for everyone.
And it doesn’t pamper to anyone to do it! It just does its own thing! That’s an accomplishment all on its own!
Presentation: Ah, the 70s
No matter how much time passes, I’ll never get tired of that sweet 70s film grain. Call it nostalgia. But these movies just look so much better!
Even if some of the sets don’t. All the normal-looking ones look fantastic, sure. But some of the others, like the candy room, don’t hold up so well. They definitely have a rough, artificial look to them. Still, they’re all clearly real sets, which makes them look better than most of the CGI hellscapes we get in movies nowadays.
Especially compared to that god awful Tim Burton version. But we’ll get to that.
My favorite thing about this movie is just how warm it manages to feel at times. Through the camerawork alone, it manages to create a sense of great comfort and welcomeness. Just look at the opening credits! It’s all just footage of a chocolate factory at work, but they manage to make it feel as welcoming as that friendly old lady down the street that bakes cookies!
What? Did you guys not have that? Cool! Me neither!
On the other hand, it can feel genuinely creepy at times! Just look at the legendary boat scene! It’s considered to be one of the most frightening scenes in any movie! It’s been referenced time and again for years! All because of the horrifying visuals!
Even if the boat itself is clearly sitting still. But still.
Performances: The Gene Wilder Show
Yeah, I’m not even gonna talk about the others. None of them are bad by any means. But compared to Gene Wilder? They’re all kind of knocked out of the park. And into orbit. Then out of the solar system. And into the next universe over.
Earlier, I mentioned how Wonka was a completely unpredictable character. A large part of that is because of Wilder’s performance. He never lets his character become obvious, not until the end! He can go from dry and sarcastic to dead serious in the blink of an eye! Sometimes, the transition is so subtle that you don’t even know it happens!
Plus, he’s got a great singing voice. That’s an important one, considering that this is a musical.
This is a top-grade performance. When people argue that casting doesn’t matter, I’ll always point to this guy. If anyone else were to try playing Willy Wonka, they wouldn’t be able to do it. Wilder was and is Willy Wonka, plain and simple.
Don’t believe me? Then let me ask you this: do you remember when Johnny Depp tried to do it? No. You don’t. Don’t even try to lie.
This is one of my favorite movies of all time. I loved it as a kid, I love it now, and I’ll love it when I’m a decrepit old man! It’s a film I can watch over and over again and never get sick of it! It’s a true classic!
Be honest: you’ve seen this movie already. But in case you haven’t, let me make my recommendation clear: watch this movie! You are missing out on a true masterpiece! And if you have seen it before (you have), then go watch it again! It’s so much damn fun, no matter your age!
Unfortunately, my joy is to be short-lived. Because this isn’t the only Willy Wonka movie. To my dismay, they remade this movie in 2005. And I don’t think I’ll be satisfied until I put that particular demon to rest.
Christ help me, this is gonna be hard…