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Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory
Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

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50 years later: Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory Marks a Half-Century of Candy

Revisiting Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory turns 50 years old this week. The film remains near the upper realm of what Hollywood can do with literary adaptations of classic children’s literature. And all it took was memorable musical numbers, one of the movies’ greatest comedic performers in the lead role, and a great deal of influence from the psychedelic undercurrents of the time when it was made. 

The film was directed by Mel Stuart. It was an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was published just seven years before the release of the movie. Filmed in Germany, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starred Gene Wilder as the mysterious chocolate factory proprietor, who was determined to bequeath his chocolate kingdom to a lucky child, in a process that may have led to the deaths of the other competitors.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory begins with the news of a contest, in which five golden tickets have been hidden in candy bars, and the winners of the five tickets will be given both a lifetime supply of chocolate and a tour of Wonka’s factory. 

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Image: Warner Bros.

That factory is a wonder of production design, from the river of chocolate to the appearance of the singing workers, the Oompa Loompas. The kid characters are each nightmares of different kinds, including Violet Beauregarde, Veruca Salt, Mike Teevee, and Augustus Gloop, and it’s the relatively normal Charlie Bucket who emerges victorious to get a ride in the Wonkavator and ultimately inherit the factory. 

Dahl is said not to have approved of the film due to changes to the plot and the addition of musical numbers. But the songs, written by  Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, are almost universally great and still well-remembered a half-century later. One of its songs, “Candy Man,” was later covered and essentially claimed by Sammy Davis, Jr. The film’s other signature song, “Pure Imagination,” is used not infrequently in commercials. 

Only a modest hit upon its release, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory eventually became a cult hit, and its influence has been felt throughout the years.  The movie has been parodied seemingly endlessly, including multiple times by Saturday Night Live, and it also inspired “Fry and the Slurm Factory,” probably the best episode of Futurama. 

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Image: Warner Bros.

And in 2005, there was another WIlly Wonka movie, titled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, as part of their seemingly endless series of collaborations on remakes, the 2005 film was meant as a more faithful adaptation of the original novel. But it’s safe to say that it’s nobody’s favorite movie about Willy Wonka. 

But there will soon be another, with the announcement earlier this year that Timothee Chalamet will star in Wonka, a new film charting the original story of Willy Wonka. The film has an impressive pedigree, with Simon Rich (An American Pickle) writing and Paddington’s Paul King directing. But whether another Willy Wonka movie is necessary, and whether the origin of Wonka is a mystery that needs solving, is another question entirely. There are also planned Wonka animated series coming to Netflix, from Taika Waititi. 

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Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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