Genre Grandeur – Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) – Digital Shortbread

1970gg For this month’s first review for Genre Grandeur – Movies of the 70’s, here’s a review of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) by Tom of Digital Shortbread.

Thanks again to Sherise of The Girl That Loved to Review. for choosing this month’s genre.

Next month’s Genre has been chosen by me.

In honor of the month when Marty McFly came to visit us here in 2015, I have decided that we will be reviewing our favorite movies featuring time travel.

Please get me your submissions by the 25th of October by sending them to  Try to think out of the box! Let’s see what Tom thought of this movie:



Number of times seen: dozens, though the most recent watch was probably about 10 years ago now


Brief Synopsis: A poor boy wins the opportunity to tour the most eccentric and wonderful candy factory of all.



My take on it: It’s disappointing knowing that famed British children’s book author Roald Dahl didn’t see eye-to-eye with Mel Stuart, director of the 1971 classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The film, based on the book ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ is a wonderful, eccentric adventure through the world’s most mysterious candy factory, and even with the different title the experience by and large dredges up many of the emotions that were felt when reading the classic novel.


Dahl, no doubt a curmudgeon, argued the experience wasn’t at all the same, that the movie mistakenly placed too much emphasis on Wonka and not Charlie. An odd argument to make, given that prior to the entry of the factory, the story (co-written by Dahl himself) pays ample attention to the impoverished lives of the Buckets — Charlie, his mother and his four bedridden grandparents. We don’t see the events taking place from any other child’s points of views, but rather quick clips of each lucky winner as they are being interviewed by the media prior to going into the factory.


Indeed, we spend time getting to appreciate the kinds of conditions this genuinely good-natured boy is coming from when he incredibly finds the last remaining Golden Ticket, and those conditions are nothing less than oppressive, what with six people living in a single shack, the four grandparents having been confined to the same bed for years and Charlie spending what little money he has on loaves of bread to feed everyone.


Perhaps what defined the book more than the little oompa-loompas was the miraculous change in fortune awaiting Charlie and his Grandpa Joe when they stepped foot inside those mysterious gates. Of any of the kids who were fortunate enough to discover one of the five tickets, it was clearly Charlie who would be most deserving. He wasn’t an obsessive, he wasn’t spoiled, wasn’t greedy nor picky nor rude. Peter Ostrum, in his only film role, exuded innocence and charm confidently and admirably, anchoring the film’s emotional core. The film may have changed titles (mostly to avoid controversy) but it never forgot where it’s heart should be.


The fact the film never got the blessing from its source material’s author has hardly impacted its reputation, however. Ostrum may have been great as a one-time child actor (still hard to believe), but Gene Wilder’s turn as the infamously idiosyncratic candyman is a once-in-a-generation kind of performance. If Dahl’s gripes were with Stuart’s direction, perhaps he ought to have taken them up with Wilder himself. Maybe he should have let the guy know that, ‘Hey, your charismatic vibes are kind of getting in the way of everyone else’s acting.’ Or: ‘Hey, could you please be a little less amazing? I fear you will be the thing everyone will remember this movie by for years to come.’


But then if that were the case Dahl should have recognized the inherent flaw in his own creation. Wonka (as in the book version) was a scene stealer. Totally enigmatic and mysterious. It seems counterproductive to not feature the man so prominently when he was integral to the fate of one Charlie Bucket.


Bottom Line: A classic. Manages to match the emotional gravity of the book while using the advantages of cinema to illustrate some of the wondrous images we’ve had in our own minds about what Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory looked like on the inside. Featuring stellar performances from Wilder and Ostrum (and we can’t forget Jack Albertson’s Grandpa Joe), Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a great example of a film living up to the high standards set by its source material.


Rating: Oscar worthy



12 thoughts on “Genre Grandeur – Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) – Digital Shortbread

  1. Pingback: Genre Grandeur September Finale – Chinatown (1974) – The Girl That Loved to Review |

  2. Great review Tom (seriously!) but stop being mean about Roald Dahl! :p :p

    In all fairness the feel of the film differs from the book A LOT. And far more emphasis was put on Willy Wonka than Charlie – this is true! Just the fact they changed the name to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” instead of the original name “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” speaks for itself. And the kid who plays Charlie – no way! Nothing like him. Awful.

    I think Dahl just didn’t like the way Wonka had become almost a creepy type of character in the film. And in his kids books it was always the child who had the spotlight and the child that was the hero.


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