Movie Review: Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (1971)

An iconic movie that presents much more than the obvious plot. Should you take the time to see it? Read on.

We’ve all been children. It is because of the brilliance of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” that we are reminded there is some child in most adults and some adult in most children.  Initially, the invitations to the Chocolate Factory seem to be random. At the end of the movie, I think most of us would agree that the children were carefully chosen by a “magical” Wonka.

The Chocolate Factory purportedly is a child’s “Candy Wonderland”. They’ve been invited but it is a “filtering process”. As we move through the movie we see egomania; gluttony; and even viciousness portrayed by the visitors to the Factory. Self-gratification and self-justification appear around every corner. And, they aren’t “punished” by Wonka, they are punished by the results of their actions.

I’ve seen many reviews of this movie who rate this movie at about a six or seven. It is higher than that. We are dealing with humanity and Willy Wonka isn’t about candy, it is about humanity.

Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), while a child, is the “everyman” we identify with. Despite abject poverty and no chance to “win” a ticket, he doesn’t give up. Charlie is who we all want to be; someone unaffected by circumstances. He is naive enough to believe life is fair. Grandpa Joe, (Jack Albertson) stands out as one who dreams the same as Charlie but without the work ethic. You see that he is a malingerer.

Willy Wonka, (Gene Wilder) invites five kids via gold tickets hidden in chocolate bars to his factory in celebration of its reopening.

Willy Wonka is presented as a reclusive eccentric who is a little “over the top” His occasional comments sometimes seem off the wall and unrelated to the current events at the time. That is because he is talking about something quite different than candy. He is commenting on life.

We watch as children disappear due to various character flaws. As it appears Charlie has everything in hand to win “candy for life” Willy Wonka discovers a technicality. But as with everything else in his life, Charlie overcomes it not with brilliance but with his innocent integrity.

“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is a societal commentary. It says that despite the ills of society and the selfishness of humanity that there is still a reason to be optimistic; that there are people in power who are watching. Willy Wonka is wise. He is wiser than we are allowed to measure.

Wilder plays this role perfectly. There is wistfulness about Willy. He knows the foibles of humanity, and, he knows what a gem Charlie is.

I think the message of this movie is that the attractions of this life stop those who see the attainment of material things as all important.

The person who sees it for what it is, (just candy), and doesn’t compromise his moral structure is protected and earns things of value.  Willy Wonka doesn’t open his factory to go back into business. He opens his factory because a good human being has to be recruited.

It is no accident that another title for this work is “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. The true center of this work is Charlie Bucket; well, actually, the true center of this work is us.

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