#25: Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory — dir. Mel Stuart
I have faith in children who are raised reading Roald Dahl. They’re the weirdos, the silly ones, the ones who usually have a pretty caustic wit and a smart mouth. And they are good children. My favorite book of his was always George’s Marvelous Medicine, which is essentially a child concocting a poisonous solution with which to murder his hideous grandmother. And yet, it’s still a charming book. I think if somewhere before they reach middle school, if a child has read one Roald Dahl, Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, and probably an Edgar Allan Poe, they’ll be set for life.
I love this movie so much for every reason I hate the goddamn soulless Tim Burton atrocity. There’s a dark edge to Roald Dahl, and that was captured in the Mel Stuart original. Gene Wilder is remarkable. He’s terrifying and charming and devious and kind. I love the fact that there’s a legitimate case to be built that Willy Wonka is a serial killer who picks off children until he can find one whose own morality matches his. We never see these spoiled brats again. The original Wonka film is pretty much the prototype for Saw. These rotten children break the rules, and are punished for it. Drowned in chocolate. Swollen and smushed. Shrunk. Dropped down a chute for being a bad egg and possibly burned in a furnace. Charlie even breaks the rules. But he is apologetic, and complacent. So Wonka spares him. And gives him the keys to the kingdom. This is pretty much what happens to Shawnee Smith in the first and subsequent Saw films.
And yet as a child, you’re never aware that Wonka is a monster. You love him. It’s all candy, candy, candy! And funny little men! Who were originally pygmy slaves in the first printing of the 1964 novel. Somehow, making them technicolor dwarves is even more disturbing, as if they were bred solely to serve the gods of sugar, fat, salt. Children’s entertainment should always have an edge that you can’t quite see until you’re older. That’s the best kind of candy.