Sunday, February 26, 2012

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

by DionysusPsyche

 It was recently decided among my family that we should rewatch Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Not the new fangled, frightening Johnny Depp version, but the wholesome, sweet original of the early 1970's. Yet, to kick it up a notch, we watched it with Rifftrax-which was how we decided to watch it in the first place. That and this new, weird Willy Wonka meme...

Riff What?
For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Rifftrax are a spinoff website of the 1980's-90's television show called Mystery Science Theatre 3000 where a poor mortal (first Joel Hodgson the creator and then Mike Nelson) is trapped in space and forced to watch bad movies with his robot sidekicks (Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy). To sum up, think about when you and your friends/family go to the movies or watch a film and spend the entire time making fun of it. That's the premise behind Rifftrax.

I don't recommend watching a film with Rifftrax if A) you've never seen the film before and really want to watch it, or B) Don't like it when people talk during movies. I do recommend it if it's A) you've seen it and would enjoy watching it objectively, B) like watching commentary—but only if it's funny, C) have never seen it before but are under the impression that it's hokey/sappy/or downright miserable without banter, or D) you're just really bored (they also offer outdated educational videos like when seatbelts were first invented or “Going Steady” a guide to dating). Some of them are excellent, some are okay, and a few aren't even bearable on account of how bad the film itself is (my friends and I are split on “Manos, Hands of Fate” from Mystery Science Theatre so don't start with that!).

In this particular Rifftrax edition, Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother and Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog) guest stars. He loved the film as a kid, but he's also capable of making fun of it, and let's face it, as an adult there are a lot of movies you thought were great as a kid, but actually weren't. WW&CF still is, and Harris is the perfect addition to that voiceover as a talented actor who can be a walking musical himself.
It's based on the most famous book by Roald Dahl (others include The Witches, Matilda, and my personal childhood favorite, Revolting Rhymes). In small town America, lives an impoverished family. The son, Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), has no father and a part time job. His mother works for very little to support their family which includes two sets of grandparents. For some unknown reason, the grandparents are all bedridden, but maybe it's just ridiculously cold and they can't afford heat. If they did explain it, I was too busy laughing over the commentary. The only interesting thing in their life is the occasional chocolate or candy that they rarely afford. They also happen to live near Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, and one day out of the blue, it is announced that Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder!) will be giving a private tour in his factory to 5 lucky winners who eat their way through bars of chocolate to find it. The bars have been distributed across the globe, and children everywhere (like they need a reason to demand more sweets) set off on a mission to find these golden tickets.

There's a Silver Platter...For Me?
Of the winners, Charlie is the only one who lacks wealth, worldly travel, and everything at his fingertips. Unlike his competitors, he lacks the mentality that the universe is his alone and he the very center of it. Nothing has ever been handed to Charlie in his whole life, and his boyhood hopes and dreams remain cautiously optimistic, if for no other reason than to put a smile on his family's face. He wants for nothing but opportunity, however small. He understands like a grown up that reality is not a fantasy land like his peers and connects more to his grandparents, particularly his Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson).

Mine, Mine, Mine
As a child, you can write off other kids as “that one is a complete weirdo,” or “I don't really connect to my peers.” As an adult, you're usually faced with a more polarized version of children. Willy Wonka's character accurately portrays a number of people's feelings regarding children: 1 out of 5 kids is actually a true, good soul. The rest (and if you don't agree with the former statement, maybe this will clarify), like their older counterparts, tend to be babied, out of control, candy grabbers—all rottten eggs. Wonka exposes each character for what he or she really is (kind of like the serial killer in Seven, but less horrifically and more family friendly)—not only children but their parents too. We see that in an effort to make their children happy, the parents are corrupt and are just as spoiled as their offspring. It makes a good lesson for all (and every lesson is better through song, right?).

Sign of the Times
As I mentioned earlier, this film was made in the 1970's. While it's full of fun, the audience can't help but be reminded of a drug trip, or what one we can assume to be one if we paid attention to our health education. The less scrupulous characters are all addicted and an obsessed with fame, television, food, money, power, and greed. As for the tunnel that Wonka puts everyone through, well, it was the '70's. I have no idea.
There is a political undertone to it as well. Why is Willy Wonka sharing his deepest, darkest secrets with kids especially when he closed his factory because of spies? Hell, why is he sharing his Oompa Loompas? What's in it for him?

I'd Like to Buy the World a...Candy Bar”
While the film was intended to sell candy bars (according to the article, turns out they sucked), it was a full song and dance—literally. There is more singing and dancing than I recalled as a child (to be fair, as a kid who grew up with every cartoon singing and dancing, I probably barely noticed). It does bring the message that the meek, honest, and good willed should inherit the earth.

From the bright colors to some truly unforgettable lines, Willy Wonka is an affair to remember. If you've never seen Willy Wonka, I'd try giving the original a shot. If you've already seen it or aren't enthusiastic enough, I'd give the commentary a shot.

Loved Willy Wonka? I'd recommend The Way it Should've Ended and this episode of Family Guy.

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