Monday, March 15, 2010

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

I've probably seen this movie thirty times, and it continues to remain a prominent fixture in my life. This was the first time my daughter (who is nine) had seen it all the way through -- she was just the right age. There is so much about it that I find magical. This time, I noticed something in the credits I hadn't seen before: "Copyright 1971, David L. Wolper and Quaker Oats". Wikipedia explains the strange story. So many strange things surround this movie -- apparently Roald Dahl didn't care for it. Neither did the public -- it made only $4M on a $2.1M budget. I mean, that's a profit, sure, but it's hard to believe it didn't get more attention. Also, the reason they called it Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory instead of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was twofold. First, it helped the Quaker Oats deal, and second, "Charlie" had unpleasant associations with the Vietnam War.

Anyway, this is probably on my list of five favorite movies of all time. It's Gene Wilder's loving/dangerous portrayal of Willy Wonka that makes it so perfect -- he's playing some kind of archetype I can't put my finger on, but that personality has been a guiding star for me my whole life. Johnny Depp totally missed it in the new movie. Gene Wilder chose (insisted, in fact) on introducing his character with his subtle cane/somersault move. Johnny Depp introduces his by callously, thoughtlessly, cruelly burning up It's a Small World. The meaningful message (Christian message, that is) of the first movie is completely absent in the second one.

There is something deep in Wilder's portayal -- something I still can't puzzle out. You know as I type this... I think I'm starting to get it... Christian message, indeed! It's so obvious! The factory tour begins with Eden, for goodness' sake! Commandments, warnings, punishment for sins, forgiveness, a chosen one without a father, and keys to the kingdom! He even led his chosen people out of the desert wastes! Why couldn't I see it before? Willy Wonka is God.

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