Film of the book: ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ (1971)

Roald Dahl famously disliked this musical adaptation of his 1964 book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, this film is now iconic, particularly for the performance of the late Gene Wilder as the eccentric factory owner Willy Wonka. The plot may be aimless and some of the scenes are a bit dodgy, but musical numbers such as ‘The Candy Man’, ‘I’ve Got a Golden Ticket’ and the Oompa-Loompas’ songs are catchy and so well-known that they are often parodied. This film basically follows the book’s plot, with various additions and alterations. The characters are spot-on, except for Wonka himself – although Wilder does capture the odd sense of humour and lax attitude towards child welfare which are present in the book, he also comes across as sinister and angry. There is a dangerous edge to him. Wonka in the book is delightful, not dangerous.

The beginning credits of the film show chocolate being made for real in a factory. This is actually one of my favourite scenes. The Wonka factory itself is not particularly nice to look at, with the chocolate river looking merely like brown water and most of the settings being surprisingly drab. Maybe this is just the film showing its age. I think the closing scene, where the Great Glass Elevator is floating in the sky, has convincing special effects for the time. It does cut the story short – in the book, Willy Wonka crashes the lift through the roof of Charlie’s house so that the rest of the Bucket family (including Charlie’s dad, who’s not included in this film) can be collected.

I ought to mention the Oompa-Loompas. In the book, they’re very small (knee-high) and have willingly come to work in the factory in exchange for their favourite food, cacao beans. They laugh at the visitors and make up rather caustic rhymes about children’s bad habits. Quentin Blake’s illustrations depict them as elf-like and smiley. In the film, the Oompa-Loompas are played by actors with dwarfism, with orange painted skin and bright green hair. I have no idea why. And we’re not given any backstory to them. I suppose this ties into the mysterious and sinister atmosphere. In the more recent adaptation by Tim Burton (2005) the Oompa-Loompas have a South American tribal aspect to them which seems more authentic, plus their backstory is given. Interestingly, Burton’s film sticks more closely to the original book, except that Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Wonka moves even further away from the original character.

Just to be clear, there is nothing sinister in the book. It’s all fun. There are no mentions of millipedes crawling across one’s mouth, the corridors do not get smaller the further you walk down them, there is no scene where Charlie and Grandpa Joe almost get shredded by ceiling fans after gulping the fizzy lifting drink, and at no point does Wonka shout at Charlie Bucket, ‘you leave with NOTHING!’

Image copyright Paramount / Warner Bros.

16 thoughts on “Film of the book: ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ (1971)”

    1. Thanks! 🙂
      I’m very fond of this film too. The version with Depp is a good film (and truer to the book) but the Wonka character is not right in it.
      I’m sure you’d love the book, it doesn’t take long to read 😉

    1. Thank you! 🙂
      I thought the Burton film was very good in many respects but I didn’t like Depp’s portrayal of Wonka or the backstory of his father being a dentist.
      Maybe you’re due a re-read 😉

    1. I’m sure a lot of people have’t seen it, and of course it’s not to everyone’s taste. In some respects it hasn’t aged well but it’s really an iconic musical because of its influence on popular culture.

    1. Thank you 🙂
      I know, there are some scary and gross moments in the film which weren’t necessary! I used to watch the film quite often so it was interesting to compare with the book, which I recently read.

  1. Having really enjoyed the book as a child, I was disappointed with this film and could never engage with it. I much prefer Tim Burton’s adaptation, which had some flaws but is a better representation of the book.

    1. I totally understand how fans of the book would be disappointed – the tone of the film is quite different, cynical and sinister. I agree that the Burton film is a better representation (although I really don’t like Depp’s Wonka at all) – thanks for your comment 🙂

  2. I haven’t read the book or seen this one but I have watched the Johnny Depp one..I really liked it but as youu mention in one other comment, the Wonka character wasn’t true to the book? Then I should better watch this one asap! As soon as I first read the book though! ITS BEEN LOONGGG COMING! 🤣🤣

    Loved your review of the movie, Ford! 😍❤️❤️❤️

    1. The book is very charming and worth a read! It’s quite short. Actually both the Wonka characters in the films are not really true to the book because they are both a bit sinister and seem not to like kids. Out of the two films I prefer the 1971 – if you haven’t seen it as a kid then it might seem really bizarre to you. Thanks for your nice comment 🙂

      1. I will read it soon! And now that you have made me aware of its existence, I might watch the 1971 movie as well! Who knows? Might be real fun! 😍❤️❤️👻👻

  3. As a kid I had a weird feeling when I first saw this movie. There was something about Willy that I just didn’t like. I think most of it had to do with Wilder. Kids can pick up things pretty quick and if something is off they’re usually right. Because of that I’ll always believe Willy was not only off but he couldn’t be trusted.

    1. The character was quite sinister and apparently didn’t like children (opposite to how he is in the book!), it’s an odd film really. It’s interesting to think how another actor would have been in the role.

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