Monday, July 15, 2019

2019 Blind Spot Series: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory


It's Blind Spot time again! Special thanks, as always goes out to Sofia at Returning Videotapes for hosting this little shindig. This time, I'm going all the way back to the year of my birth. Since traveling that far takes a while, no more beating around the bush. Let's get to it.


Why did I pick it? Because I’ve had about three thousand chances to watch this and haven’t. Over the years, I’ve seen bits and pieces of the movie at least twenty times. I always figured I would watch it when I had kids. By the time they got to an age where they could appreciate movies, and I seriously considered showing it to them, there was a remake. So rather than force them to sit through a decades-old movie, we made a trip to the theater and saw Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, starring Johnny Depp. I’m a Burton apologist, and at the time, I was a big believer in Johnny Depp, so why not? Truth told, I liked it. I know it’s become cool to hate that movie, but I still like it. The drawback to seeing the remake first was that I really didn’t feel the pull to watch the original. I kept telling myself I would see it, but I was in no hurry. Once again, the universe intervened while I was perusing the shelves in some pawn shop, and there was Gene Wilder smiling at me from beneath a $1 price tag. And here we are.

We meet Charlie (Peter Ostrum) and see that he’s a poor kid who carries around the weight of having to help take care of his family since there are four…FOUR bedridden people in his household. The only one that matters to the story, independent of being another mouth to feed, is Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson), who constantly verbalizes sympathy for Charlie’s plight and is the boy’s best friend. The big news, however, is that the reclusive maker of the world’s best candy, Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder), has announced that he will allow five lucky people (plus one guest each) to come into his factory. Since no one has come in or out in decades, the entire world is thrown into a tizzy. Those people who get to go will be five people who find a golden ticket when they unwrap their brand-new Wonka Bar. After a worldwide search, we find and meet our other four winners and go through some fake outs until Charlie is finally revealed as the last winner. All show up at the factory on the special day, meet Mr. Wonka, head inside, and nuttiness ensues.

The first thing that struck me was the bright, cheery look of the film, and everyone in it aside from our bratty winners. It has a warmth to it, the remake doesn’t (last reference to Burton's film). Everything about the original is draped in a welcoming charm. This charm is what it uses to get us on Charlie’s side. Unlike his fellow winners, he’s just a nice kid. We’re told how hard he has it, but we don’t really see it. Therefore, he has to be the nicest kid in the world, so that’s what they make him. That only goes so far, though. We like Charlie, but we don’t love him. I went through the entirety of the movie being curious about what would happen next, but not particularly caring. I never felt the tug on my heartstrings the movie seems to be trying for. It’s all just cute.

The lack of real magnetism extends to Willy Wonka, himself. Gene Wilder is fine in the titular role, given what he has to work with. The movie introduces him as kind of a charlatan. There’s a surface appeal to his persona and his antics, but we’re not sure of his motivations or his honesty. We’re guarded from the moment he appears on screen. As things wear on the film works hard to plant the seed that he might be up to something deviant. At the very least it shows us he has a cavalier attitude towards the lives of these children that he’s invited into his home/factory. When it’s finally revealed (spoiler?) that he’s not out to murder everyone who showed up, it’s too little too late for us to fall in love with the guy.

The only character who evoked strong emotions in me was Grandpa Joe. Sigh. That might be because I’m seeing it for the first time as an adult who has had to support a family and without the distraction of little children sitting next to me with wonder in their eyes.


Sigh.

Okay.

Here. We. Go.

Grandpa Joe gets all my hatred. Every single drop. This dude is a true sack of excrement. Remember, he was one of those four…FOUR bedridden people living in the same house as Charlie. We’re told on more than one occasion that Joe hasn’t even set foot on the floor in twenty years. TWENTY. During this whole time, he’s talking all that good shit about how bad he feels for Charlie and if he ever gets his strength back he’s going to pull his own weight. Yet, the moment Charlie shows him a golden ticket and invites him to the Wonka factory he hops his happy ass out of bed with a song. An f’n Song! Within the length of his little ditty, there are absolutely zero signs of anything that would’ve caused him to be laid up in a bed with three other invalids for two decades. TWO DECADES! Screw you Grandpa Joe. Screw you. I have zero crass terms for intercourse to give what happens to you. I spent every second of the last hour of this movie hoping…praying…wishing you would choke on every piece of candy you dared shove into your freeloading mouth. And when you nearly floated into the sharp blades of a ventilation fan after drinking the Super Fizzy Pop, or whatever it’s called, I was giddy with the hope of prayers being answered. Giddy. It might make me a bad human to wish such things on another person but I’m no worse than you forcing your grandchild to take care of you, knowing full well there was nothing wrong with you. Nothing. Screw you Grandpa Joe with a giant, rotating, spiked dildo.

The face of the devil

Phew.

I’m calm.

I promise.

Now, I have to wonder were any of the four people lounging in this bed sick, at all. Could they all be faking the funk? If I ever see you in the street, Grandpa Joe, you definitely catching these hands!

Wooo-sah.

Deep cleansing breaths.

I’m good.

For real, this time.

Was I just speaking directly to a fictional character?

Let’s just wrap this up.

I like the movie, but I don’t love it. Other than the trifling Grandpa Joe, the characters kept me at arm’s length. Even the other bratty kids didn’t bother me too much. Perhaps that’s partly due to me having seen the remake several times and being prepared for them. They were annoying and bratty, but I didn’t hate them. The other issue is that there is very little conflict in the story. Things happen and we wonder if Wonka is a villain or not, but we aren’t actively rooting for or against him. Similarly, Charlie never rises to the level of hero. As stated earlier, he is a nice enough kid, but that’s about it. The entire story happens to him rather than him making anything happen. The mere fact of him not being a spoiled brat is the only attribute that we’re given to cling to. There’s just not much there. The two of them demonstrate the other problem. No one has an arc. The entire group of people leave the movie exactly as they entered it. Therefore, the film we watch is nice. Some fun things happen, helped by the fact that most of the visuals hold up pretty well despite being nearly fifty years old, and some catchy songs. Unfortunately, it’s never compelling.



10 comments:

  1. I kinda liked the Tim Burton version as well yet this is the film version I grew up on. I love Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. He is Willy Wonka to me.

    Your rant on Grandpa Joe made me laugh.

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    1. Glad to see some love for the remake. Wilder is Willy Wonka for a lot of people.

      And yeah, GJ needs to keep his head on a swivel.

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  2. I LOVE this film!!! But I saw if in the theatre on its initial release when I was a very little shaver indeed and I'm sure that has alot to do with my devotion.

    I'll admit that Grandpa Joe and his magical recovery are a bit hard to swallow, and he leads Charlie astray with the Fizzy Pop sampling but I was so into all the bright colors, the Oompa Loompas and the other general coolness it didn't bother me much.

    There will never be any other Willie Wonka but Gene Wilder! His aura is a bit dark but he is supposed to be mysterious and somewhat unknown, if he was a big open-hearted teddy bear from the get go that would minimize the tension of the situation.

    I'm one of those that detested the dank, ugly remake.

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    1. Wilder is definitely the preferable actor in this role. I like the way he handled it. Depp/Burton went too far in making Wonka creepy. That said, I get why people hate the remake. I just don't.

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  3. Your Grandpa Joe rant is better than both movies combined - ha! I love it.
    I grew up with this version so it's always the one I'll like best, but when I watched it as an adult I didn't warm to it as much :(

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    1. Thanks! I got the distinct feeling this movie plays a lot better when you're 10.

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  4. Amen to your take on Grandpa Joe. Fuck that dude. I've never been crazy about this movie. i think the actor that plays Charlie is atrocious. I never had a huge issue with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory either. It was also just fine.

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