August 2014 Blind Spot: Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart, 1971)


The first adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl children’s book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, stars Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, Peter Ostrum as Charlie Bucket and Jack Albertson as Grandpa Joe.

Having seen Tim Burton’s adaptation I can safely say this film is much better and more entertaining. Gene Wilder’s Wonka feels more natural and like an actual human being to the strange Johnny Depp version. He’s charming and doesn’t come off as annoying. This performance is central to the film because if it turned out to be a mess then the film wouldn’t have worked.


The entire cast does great jobs with their characters. Even the kids get some great work done with the brats they play. The actor portraying Charlie delivers a fine performance. Very aware that he is in a musical and a film far from realism. Just an observation.

This version of the Roald Dahl book is a musical with music having an important role in creating the charm and wonder of the story. At the beginning I thought the songs weren’t that good, with some weak lyrics depicting just facts and actions without having real emotion. One that I’m thinking of is the song that Charlie’s mother sings after he leaves her work at night which by the way is very dangerous for a small child like Charlie. But once Pure Imagination came I changed my opinion. What an amazing song! I think the music vastly improved after they entered the factory.


Worth praising are the sets and special effects which look like they were were hard to make. Especially back in the 70’s when there were no computer generated effects. The most impressive were the Chocolate River and the Bubble Room where Charlie and Grandpa Joe levitated.

I was left a bit surprised by the pacing. It took a long time, about half of the film for Charlie to get that ticket. I’ve read the story when I was a kid and can’t remember the details so I can’t say whether they were faithful to the story. But I found it strange that it took such a long time with this part to get over with.


One thing that I will like to address is the supposedly scary scene from the tunnel. I’m not sure if that would scare me as a child but my explanation for its existence is the necessary addition at that time to have something psychedelic in any kind of media. Maybe they thought it would appeal to the young adults too, not only to children. Maybe it was in the story and I can’t remember it. A similar thing happened in the 1968 film Charly based on the novel Flowers for Algernon that had a very strange segment with a trippy feeling. This is what led me to believe that the tunnel scene is a sign of those times.

In conclusion, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a respectable musical and adaptation of the famous Roald Dahl story that needs to be seen despite its flaws. If you want to watch an adaptation of the story try this one. I know most people will go for the Tim Burton version but I think you should give this one a try as well.



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