Excursus on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

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I tend to have strong feelings about things. There's not a lot of grey in my world. Things are very black or very white.

Gene-wilderOne of the many areas in which this is true is the movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This has been a favorite of mine for my entire life. I take great umbrage at the fact that Johnny Depp created a new version of this story – with the notable exception of one cool song. I am loyal to the 1971 version to the bitter end (sort of like how I think the Alastair Sims version of Christmas Carol is the only one worth watching).

One of the big appeals for me is the music. It all starts off with the opening credits with a musical Yearning overture in the background. Soon thereafter, we get to hear Candy Man. The most poignant part of this, naturally, is when Charlie is seen outside the candy store, ruefully looking at the treats which, we surmise, he simply can't afford.

I'm not sure why this particular scene affects me so strongly. I led a very middle-class life as a child, but I definitely didn't get much in the way of "extras". The small number of plastic models I had, I had paid for on my own with my own miniscule earnings. I definitely didn't have the kind of life where i could simply have whatever caught my eye. That's why Christmas was such a big deal – – – it was one of two times during the year (the other being my birthday) during which I could look forward to getting some cool gift, costing perhaps $50.

The movie is interlaced with a great deal of cunning humor. When Augustus Gloop wins the first ticket, the television reporter is positioned in front of an animal head trophy, making it look like he's wearing horns. Soon thereafter, the piggish Mr. Gloop takes a bite off the top of the reporter's microphone, munching it up.

BedriddenEven as a child, though, it really irked me that – once Charlie had, through a miracle, found a golden ticket, his Grandpa Joe was jumping and dancing around, singing "I've got a golden ticket!" Hey, old man, you don't have squat. Your grandson – – who has fifty times your work ethic – – has a golden ticket, and he'll choose his guest. I was pleased to see there's an entire web site devoted to Grandpa Joe and his suspicious behavior.

I must, of course, mention the one and only weak part of the movie. It is the part that generations of viewers have fast-forwarded past. It was the only maudlin and insipid part of the entire piece. Yes, I am speaking of the song that Charlie's mother sings – Cheer Up Charlie. Good God in heaven, has anyone in human history – besides those who went to the theatres – actually sat through this entire piece? May it hit the cutting room floor in a future Director's Cut!

Besides Charlie, who represents purity, the other four children are stand-ins for various deadly sins. As far as I can tell…..

  1. Gluttony is represented by Augustus Gloop;
  2. Greed is, of course, Veruca Salt;
  3. Sloth is Mike Teevee;
  4. Pride, I suppose, is Violet Beauregard. This one is harder to pin down, because chewing gum isn't a cardinal sin, but she does keep flouting her chewing skills in order to needle her gum-smacking rival ("…..and boy is she mad!")

The sweetest part of the picture, of course, is when Charlie has evidently lost his lifetime supply of chocolate, and (the once-again evil) Grandpa Joe firmly tells Charlie that they are going to commit corporate espionage by turning in the everlasting gobstopper to Slugworth (let's set aside the fact that creating a product whose key differentiator is that it lasts forever, and thus never need be purchased again, doesn't make for a viable revenue opportunity).

After Charlie quietly places the gobstopper on Wonka's desk, making such a deal with the devil impossible, Mr. Wonka gently grasps the candy and quietly says, "So shines a good deed in a weary world." He then excitedly tells Charlie the truth – – that he needed to find an honest, virtuous child to whom he could give his factory. The good guy wins!

I have given quite a bit of thought as to why this movie is such a big deal to me. Part of it is the joy in seeing a nice person emerge victorious (I tend to side with the good guys, for understandable reasons); part of it is that I enjoy the music. But, on pondering this deeply, I think it's because I see this movie as an allegorical tale for my own business life.

I, like Charlie, have often looked through the wrought iron gates of companies and wanted to be a part. The W-O-N-K-A flashing letter by letter on the smokestack early in the movie might as well have been A-P-P-L-E for me, and yes, Steve Jobs is, in my mind, the gentle and slightly mad genius behind the entire operation.

Willy-wonka.thumbnailI used to believe, many years ago, that rewards were given simply to those who wanted them the most (e.g. Grandpa Joe saying that Charlie would win the golden ticket because he wants it more than anyone else). This is obviously not the case, and I'm glad for that. My golden ticket came for me, at long last, when I sold Prophet. I had worked for years and years at building a business, and there were many nightmares and near-disasters along the way. But, in early 2005, after thirteen years of effort, I finally had my little piece of the chocolate factory. And, in a small way, I felt that I had finally earned the right to get onto that great glass elevator, press the red button, and soar above the town below.