Silver Screen Revisited: Willy Wonka 

Charlotte Muth
25 May 2019
At the end of every school year, I am filled with hope for all the fabulous things I will do to fill the free time of summer.  The paintings I will paint!  The podcasts and documentaries I will suddenly be interested in!  The excursions I will embark upon!

At the end of every summer, I am bored, ready to return to the path of enlightenment, and not-so impressed with the amount of creative stuff I’ve done.  But, my dear reader, there is one thing I do every summer without doubt.  I re-watch movies.

There is something so poignantly comforting in watching something for the second (third? fourth?) time.  Basking in the noncommittal glory of cable, I peruse a sea of options.  The second half of The Proposal?  Forrest Gump?  Saving Private Ryan?  Some movies just always seem to be on TV, and I can’t resist the low-stakes allure.  Sitting on my couch with phone in hand and dog at side, I feel at perfect ease.  There is no pressure to pay close attention: my memory will fill in the gaps.

So, welcome to my column – Silver Screen Revisited – where I will touch upon the movies I choose to re-watch and my insights therein.  For my first segment, I will talk about 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Recently, I walked downstairs to find the television playing this movie, about twenty minutes in.  My mother and I were about to head out the door, but our eyes were magnetized by the bright colors and majestic innocence of the film.  We didn’t want to leave.  However, we mustered our seriousness and hit the record button, saving the film for later.  The bits I caught in that moment struck me as familiar, but not completely as I remembered.  I realized – God, I haven’t seen this movie since I was a kid!  I was excited to watch the rest of it, but a little nervous.  What if the movie disappoints me?  What if my childhood illusion is shattered?

That night, we watched the film.  My first impressions:

It looks like someone blow-dried little Charlie’s hair.

There is something incredible about the image of the four grandparents foot-to-head in the same bed.

One of the only parts I vividly remembered from childhood is when Willy Wonka picks a tulip in the “eatable” room, sips some delicious liquid out of it, and takes a crunchy bite out of the side.

Lastly, how did I never notice how acutely Seventies this movie is?

My first two observations speak for themselves.  Regarding my third: it is interesting to observe what children notice in movies.  As a kid, I absolutely loved the Chocolate Room scene.  The room was so vibrant and beautiful and my imagination granted me true belief in the deliciousness of everything I saw.  This time around, I couldn’t help but scrutinize the scene for what looked fake.  My eyes picked out every detail that looked like cardboard rather than candy, brown water rather than a chocolate river.

When I was young, I also had no problem with Willy Wonka as a character.  I remember being much more weirded out by Johnny Depp’s version of the character in the Tim Burton remake.  In my current level of maturity (whatever that may be), it’s hard to avoid looking at Gene Wilder’s character with healthy skepticism – who wasn’t warned to avoid strangers giving candy to children?  But, I also noticed the character’s understated humor.  I got a huge kick out of his subtle quirks and the way he would utter a faint and disinterested “Stop; Don’t; Come back” before each child proved his or her ghastliness.  I suppose Depp chose to be conspicuous where Wilder opted for subtlety.

To discuss my fourth point – this film was made in 1971.  The movie’s style and costume choices profess this fact.  The musical scenes make heavy-handed use of brightly colored sing-along subtitles and quirky, geometric transitions.  Charlie wears a turtleneck for the better part of the film.  The floral pattern of Willy Wonka’s vest is indubitably of the era.  The film’s stylistic choices place it in time; I cannot help but notice that the film feels dated.  These observations lead me to the following insight: children can consume a story without regard for its time period.  Simply put, children have a real knack for suspending their disbelief.

Ultimately, I enjoyed revisiting a movie I had not seen for a decade.  Sadly, our recording failed to capture the last few minutes of the film.  But it was not a problem – my memory filled in the gaps.