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Monday, April 02, 2012

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Welcome to the first day of the special theme week known as “Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This Week”.

Who am I to disagree?

From April 2 until April 8, all the topics will have something to do with chocolate, candy, and products that are associated with confectionary delights.  The theme days will stay the same, but the content will be ever so sweet.  And, hey, since Easter’s around the corner, there might just be a couple of Easter-themed entries along the way.

For today, we are going to kick off the week with a Monday Matinee feature that was originally a book, and was adapted into film twice.  And, in case you’re wondering why I have turned this entry brown for the day, it’s because the setting of this movie happens to take place at a chocolate factory.

I see some of you in the audience nodding your head in anticipation, as if you already know what the subject of today’s blog is, so I won’t waste any time.

Have you seen this person before?  It happens to be a photo of Gene Wilder, circa 1971.  Some of you who may have Facebook or Twitter accounts may have come across it before, as it is a popular avatar being used for memes such as the one below.

However, I reckon that many of you youngsters out there probably have no idea where this image came from.  Well, it happens to be from the 1971 classic film, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, a musical adaptation of the 1964 novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, written by author Roald Dahl.

But, wait, I hear some of you saying.  Wasn’t the movie called “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”?  Wasn’t it released more recently than 1971?  Didn’t Johnny Depp play Willy Wonka?  Well, if we were discussing the 2005 remake of the movie, than yes, those facts would be true. 

But I wanted to talk about the original 1971 movie for a couple of reasons.  It not only happens to be the version that I grew up with watching, but it is the version that I enjoy the most.

By all accounts, despite the fact that the movie is widely considered to be a cult hit, it bombed at the box office when it was released in June 1971.  I actually found that surprising, given how so many of my friends have fond memories of this movie.  Another fact that I found interesting was the fact that Roald Dahl hated the final product of the film.  He disliked it so much that it took two decades before he allowed Hollywood to turn another one of his books into a movie!  I suppose I can understand his feelings.  If I had a book that I was proud of, I’d ideally want it to be as close to my original vision as possible.

However, Dahl’s opinions aside, I thought the movie brought a lot with it.  It had chocolate and candy, which almost every child loves, as well as a fantastic and believable child cast.  And, it also had a very important life lesson hidden beneath the nougat, sprinkles, and sugary drizzle...but we’ll get to that a little bit later.

I’m assuming that most of you know what the movie is about, so I won’t bore you with a detailed summary of the plot.  Basically, Willy Wonka has a contest going on where he has hidden five golden tickets in various Wonka chocolate bars all over the world.  The lucky children to find the golden tickets were invited on a grand tour of the magnificent and mysterious chocolate factory where Wonka candies and chocolates are made.  The five children who find the tickets are...

-      Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), a chunky German boy who overindulges on anything resembling food.

-      Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), an English girl who is so spoiled, three month old milk appears fresh in comparison.

-      Violet Beauregard (Denise Nickerson), an American girl who chews gum all day and all of the night.

-      Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen), a boy who spends more time watching baseball on TV rather than playing baseball outside.

-      Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), a young boy poor in money, but rich in kindness who lives with his parents, and his four grandparents.

The five children soon arrive at Willy Wonka’s factory with their mother or father (or in Charlie’s case, a grandfather), and Willy Wonka happily greets them at the door.  As they enter the factory, all five children are absolutely blown away by the magic within its walls.  It’s truly a vision of pure imagination.

At first, the tour goes according to plan, and everyone is happy.  But, then poor Augustus Gloop is drawn to the river of chocolate that flows through the factory, and he decides to drink as much of the sweet, liquid chocolate as he can.  This proves costly for Augustus, as he falls directly into the river.  It’s bad enough that Augustus is unable to swim to safety, but then he gets sucked up into a giant tube, leaving the rest of the tour group in shock.

Don’t count on the little orange men known as the Oompa-Loompas to be of any help.  All they seem to do is poke fun at the situation by singing a song about the missing Gloop boy.

Those silly Oompa-Loompas.  They may appear to be simple sugar lackeys on the surface, but their wisdom should be heeded.

I imagine that it must not have been a great feeling for Mrs. Gloop to see her son almost drown in a river of chocolate and get sucked up to parts unknown.  However, Augustus wasn’t the only child to take an unexpected detour on the tour.  Violet Beauregard’s gum addiction lead to her undoing after she chewed a piece that turned her into a gigantic blueberry.  Mike Teevee ended up shrinking to the size of a pixel after a freak accident involving one of Willy Wonka’s inventions.  And, Veruca Salt...well, see for yourself.

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer gal.

By the tour’s conclusion, Charlie Bucket is the only one left, and Willy Wonka was disappointed, as well as a little angry.  Despite the fact that all Charlie really did that could be considered mischievous was sample some of Willy Wonka’s Fizzy Lifting Drinks, Willy Wonka comes to the conclusion that because the other four children were bad, Charlie must be too. 

Mind you, I won’t spoil the ending of this movie (most of you probably know how it ends anyway), but to give you a hint, it involves these.

That’s your clue to how the whole story wraps up.

So, what life lessons can we take from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”?  I can come up with a couple right off the bat.  For one, I have no choice but to be a little vague, because if I come right out and say it, I’ll spoil the ending of the movie.  So, I’ll just come out and say it.  Don’t judge people based on the actions of other people.  It was a lesson that Willy Wonka himself needed to learn.  One that a certain young man named Bucket could teach him.

The second, and perhaps most important lesson, that we can learn is that too much of anything is never a good thing.

Let’s face it.  The four children who ended up getting into the most trouble were also the most greedy and self-absorbed.  Augustus Gloop was the poster child for the sin of gluttony, and he ended up in a tight situation because of it.  Violet’s gum-chewing wasn’t really that much of a problem, but her headstrong attitude could be suffocating at times, and her personality lead to her ego (as well as the rest of her body) inflating at an enormous rate.  Veruca Salt wanted it all, but didn’t want to do the work to earn it, which cheapened her personality much like the defective items that were sent down the garbage chute.  As for poor Mike Teevee, his screen time took over his life so much that it seemed fitting that his ultimate fate would involve a television screen.

In the case of Augustus, Mike, Veruca, and Violet, their greedy behaviour got them in a world of trouble.  The parents of the four wasted no time in blaming Willy Wonka for what happened to their children, but the truth is that they did it to themselves with their greedy behaviour.

The lesson is simple.  Don’t be greedy!  Be more like Charlie Bucket!  After all, he was the only one to get the full tour for a reason.  And in a world where we seemingly are under the impression that greed is good, I think that we need more Charlie Buckets in this world to show us that life can be just as sweet on the other side.

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