8/21/07

R029 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

(1971, Children/Musical, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson and Neil Patrick Harris

You don’t lose this many people on a tour of the open-manhole factory.

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:

An eccentric candy-maker holds a contest to find himself an heir.

Summary:

'I never dreamed that I would climb over the moon in ecstasy' is the kind of lyric we don't get in kids' movies anymore.Eccentric chocolateer Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) closed his factory to the public years ago, and yet he continues to produce mouth-watering confections despite his apparent lack of a workforce. Children everywhere scrimp and save to buy his candy, each one of wishing for a lifetime supply of chocolate and a chance to see inside the marvelous candy-making facility. An official announcement is made: a lucky five will get their wish if they find a golden ticket inside specially marked Wonka Bars™.

A chocolate-buying frenzy descends upon the world as everyone—children, adults, scientists, psychiatrists, and criminals alike—tries like mad to find the coveted golden tickets. Augustus Gloop, spokesmodel for childhood obesity, finds the first. He refuses to stop eating to talk to the press, but he’s got time for the sinister, scar-faced man that shovels bratwurst onto his plate while he whispers in the greedy youngster’s ear.

The preternaturally demanding Veruca Salt finds the next. Or rather, her father orders his enormous staff of nut-shelling factory workers to find it for her in an effort to appease her shrill demands. The scar-faced man has a word with her as well.

Veteran gum-chewer Violet Beauregard has to wrest the newsman’s microphone away from her used car-salesman father to tell her tale of finding the third ticket. She doesn’t quite tell us though, opting instead to show off a month-old wad of chewing gum. The scar-faced man approaches…

The appropriately named Mike Teavee won’t respond to reporter’s questions until after his show is over. His parents tell the press about his finding of the fourth golden ticket. The scar-faced man waits for the commercial to speak to the television-obsessed boy.

Meanwhile, Charlie Bucket lives with his laundress mom and his bed-ridden grandparents. They’re so poor, all they can afford to eat is cabbage broth. Fortunately, Charlie’s new job as a paperboy will allow for an occasional loaf of bread and some tobacco for his Grandpa Joe. He only manages to scrape together enough for two ticketless candy bars before a Paraguayan gambler announces he’s found the fifth ticket. Charlie finds a dollar in the gutter and buys himself a couple more, just because he’s hungry. While he eats the first, he overhears some bystanders discussing their distaste for Paraguayan gamblers who forge tickets. Charlie opens the second bar, and sees that glint of gold…

The scar-faced man stops him on his way home. His name is Slugworth, and his candy company will pay any amount for a sample Wonka’s amazing new confection, the Everlasting Gobstopper. Charlie continues towards home.

Charlie’s discovery is enough to get Grandpa Joe out of bed for the first time in twenty years. Next morning, he and Charlie join their less-than-savory fellow winners at the gates of Wonka’s factory. The man himself emerges, feigning infirmity for a few inexplicable minutes before springing up to welcome his guests. He invites them inside, browbeats them into signing a huge and complicated contract, and then proceeds to pick them off one by one, as follows:

Augustus Gloop: The first room is the chocolate room, reached through a series of confusing doors with musical locks. This room includes an idyllic, edible countryside with grass made of sugar and a waterfall of chocolate. Augustus leans over to drink greedily from the chocolate river, and then falls in. A nearby pipe sucks him up into another part of the factory. The Oompa Loompas (Wonka’s diminutive orange-skinned and green haired workers) sing a song of their disdain for overeaters while Mrs. Gloop is led away.

Violet Beauregard: Next up is the inventing room, reached by paddleboat down the chocolate river, through a dark tunnel filled with psychedelic images of insects and headless chickens. This room is significant for the strange machines it contains, including one that produces the coveted Everlasting Gobstoppers. Wonka gives them one each while swearing them all to secrecy. Another machine produces strips of gum, each of which contains a three-course meal. Violet steals one and marvels at the first two courses. They all shriek in surprise when she turns into third course (dessert) by swelling up into a giant blueberry. The Oompa Loompas sing of their disdain for gum chewers while they roll her away for juicing.

Transparent references to slavery are okay as long as you get chocolate out of them.Charlie Bucket: They pass through a bubble-filled room where Wonka makes something called Fizzy Lifting drink. When Wonka and the others move on, Grandpa Joe holds Charlie back to try some. They drift upwards, reveling in their newfound powers of flight…until they start drifting dangerously close to the giant fan blades on the ceiling. They discover they can get down by belching out the lifting gas. They reach the floor and hurry to rejoin the others.

Veruca Salt: The next room is one in which giant geese lay giant chocolate eggs wrapped in gold foil. Directly below each is an eggdicator, which keeps the good eggs and drops the bad ones into the garbage chute. Veruca demands a giant goose, and throws a musical fit when Wonka won’t sell her one. She sits on an eggdicator, which says “Bad Egg” and drops her into the garbage chute. The Oompa Loompas sing of their disdain for demanding spoiled little brats, and then Veruca’s father falls into the garbage chute trying to rescue her.

Mike Teavee: The last room is the Television room, reached by a giant foam-spurting contraption called the Wonkamobile. Inside, Wonka demonstrates a machine that can turn giant bars of chocolate into tiny bars of chocolate that pop out of your television. Mike Teavee gets a little overexcited and sends himself by television, coming out the other end only three inches high. Wonka sends him to be stretched in the taffy puller, while the Oompa Loompas sing of their disdain for kids who watch too much television.

Having run out of children to torment (except for Charlie) Wonka returns to his office. Charlie and Grandpa Joe follow him in to ask about the promised lifetime supply of chocolate. Wonka replies that the episode with the Fizzy Lifting Drink disqualifies him from receipt of same, pursuant to the contract they signed upon entry. They walk out, and Grandpa Joe determines to give Mr. Slugworth the Gobstopper he was seeking. Charlie disagrees, and returns to the office to give the Gobstopper back.

Mr. Wonka springs up to introduce his scar-faced employee, who was only posing as Slugworth to test the integrity of the golden ticket holders. He takes Charlie and Grandpa Joe into his glass elevator, which goes so far up that it crashes through the ceiling and flies out into the sky. As they look down on the factory below, Wonka declares that Charlie has proven himself worthy, and will someday succeed him as owner of the chocolate factory.

Thoughts:

If you check your DVD extras, you'll find that this actor now sports the ugliest mustache in all of Christendom.As a former child, you’ve probably already seen this film multiple times. I’ve seen it many, many times both as a child and as a parent, and it always makes me think about the exact same thing. Specifically: About how much I hate the “Cheer Up, Charlie” song, one of the longest, most boring musical compositions this side of Flower Drum Song. It’s even more boring than a night at the opera, in that having the actress who plays Mrs. Bucket gain three hundred pounds, don a metal brassier, and sing in German would have helped it immensely.

Aside from that, though, it’s thoroughly enjoyable film based on one of the most viciously fun little books ever written. Like many great children’s movies (e.g. The Polar Express, The Little Mermaid, Curse of the Wererabbit, and/or anything based on a fairy tale), it is essentially an over-the-top, carefully sanitized horror film with a happy ending. Contrived? Yes. Unrealistic? Certainly. Overly preachy? That’s usually a great detriment to a kid’s movie, but this one is so outrageous in its moralism that it’s impossible to take seriously.

Which is not to say that it doesn’t deserve mockery. Anything this ridiculous can’t help but inspire a snide comment or two, and the commentary track is full of them. Joining Mike is long-time television star Neil Patrick Harris of How I Met Your Mother and Doogie Howser M.D. When “The Candyman Can” describes a particular confection as “a rainbow, sprinkle it with dew, [mixed] with love,” Mike notes, “The FDA banned love as a food additive about a year ago.” When we meet Charlie’s eccentric teacher for the first time, Neil asks, “Stark raving insane, or just British?” Later, Neil says, “I had an Everlasting Gobstopper once. It tasted like banana-flavored paint thinner.” Not a bad movie, but an extremely goofy one; the overall effect of the commentary is to intensify the story’s zaniness, making a good movie even funnier.