5 Reasons...Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a Gothic Masterpiece

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - Image © Paramount Pictures Corporation

Roald Dahl may have not have been a fan of the 1971 adaptation of his book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I think it’s that rare film that improves on the source material. It’s a gloriously gothic fairy tale that grows more troublesome the more you bite into it.

There are a variety of winks and nods to the movie throughout The Mythic Series but most conspicuously Willy Wonka is a key component of the Mad Catter character from The Mythic and the City of Sweet Sorrow.

Here are five reasons I so adore this delightfully dark film.

1. It Features So Much Twisted Behaviour That Is Passed Off As Normal

Wonka keeps an entire race in his factory and makes them work. That’s slavery, right? Mr Salt promises to buy Veruca an Oompa Loompa. So yes, it’s slavery! Violet is seriously disfigured then treated like a beachball by the little orange men and no one does a thing to stop them. In fact, the group is whittled down relentlessly through various traumas but no one seems more than a little perturbed. At Wonka’s urging the visitors lick wallpaper. They. Lick. Wallpaper. However, creepiest of all is the fact that there are only enough seats on the boat ride for four golden ticket winners. In other words, Wonka had planned that one of the children wouldn’t make it on-board. This place of pure imagination has more pure inventive death-traps than the Saw franchise.

2. Full Scream Ahead!

The boat trip through the pitch-black tunnel of terror features seizure-inducing rainbow strobe lights and flashes of nightmarish imagery – including a chicken being decapitated and a centipede slithering over someone’s mouth. All the while Wonka recites end-of-days verse, quietly at first but building to a full-on psychotic scream. Why this hasn’t become a ride in a theme park is beyond me.

3. The Veruca Assault

Growing up I despised and adored Veruca in equal measure. She’s devious, but deliciously so. “Make them work nights!” Miss Salt orders her father when his factory staff hasn’t found a ticket after shelling chocolate bars for five days straight. All the child actors in the film are superb but Julie Dawn Cole who played Veruca is a scene-stealer. No wonder unlike any of the other children and even Charlie himself, she gets her own tour-de-force musical number I Want it Now, a song that includes the rarely used word “beanfeast” in its lyrics. Veruca might be a spoiled nitwit but the girl knows her way around a dictionary.

4. Bonkers for Wonka

While Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the more mellifluous title, I like all the film’s changes, including the focus on Wonka. Wilder deepens the slightly one-dimensional lead from the book. Sure, he deepens him with a huge scoop of madness, but also heart. The switch from squirrels to geese for the temptation-of-Veruca scene helps answer a question I always had as a child: what creature lays an Easter egg? Charlie stealing some fizzy lifting drink rounds out the passive, goody-two shoes-literary version. Also, he is fatherless in the film, so the addition of a new male parental figure at the end is thematically pleasing. But, most of all, the decision to give the Oompa Loompas orange skin and green hair side-steps the racism of the book’s original draft along its colonialism and slavery undertones. When first seeing the film I assumed the Loompaland story was just a cover for them being aliens, although that would still mean Wonka has enslaved a sentient species so it isn’t necessarily an improvement…

5. The Hungry Games

At the end of the film Wonka admits he concocted the golden ticket ruse and factory tour to provide him with potential heirs for his factory and test their suitability. But it had to be a child because he wants things done exactly as he did. In other words, Charlie doesn’t win because he’s the strongest or kindest or smartest. He wins because Wonka thinks he’ll be the easiest to indoctrinate. Imagine the years of psychological conditioning Charlie will now endure just so Wonka can ensure his dynasty continues unchanged. The factory isn’t Charlie’s prize, it’s his prison.

Ironically, based upon what we see in the film, Veruca would be the best choice of the golden ticket winners. Sure, she’s spoiled, but she’s grown up watching her father run a successful peanut factory, demonstrates ambition by obtaining a ticket purposefully rather than by chance – ambition the Wonka brand will need to fend off its rivals – and, most importantly, she’s the only one of the children with the iron will to squash the inevitable Oompa Loompa uprising.

Want to read something even more twisted than Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Then try The Mythic and the City of Sweet Sorrow.
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