June 9, 2012

Pop Culture Reunion: Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

In keeping with the theme of pop culture reunions, last (2011) June was the 40th anniversary of the movie "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory". The 1971 Mel Stuart film was based on author Roald Dahl's book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". The original movie, which starred Gene Wilder as Willie Wonka and an entire cast of kids, parents and Oompa Loompas, actually followed the author's book quite closely in terms of the screenplay, yet the British author reportedly HATED the film adaptation. One of the things he reportedly hated about the movie was that the producer and director made it into a musical. Mr. Dahl passed away in 1990, so he missed the remake (with the title "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") which starred Johnnie Depp as Willie Wonka.

I was only 2 years old at the time the original film premiered, so I never actually saw the movie on the big screen, but I can remember that it was a really big deal when it made it to network TV a few years later, and I was in the right age group (in the second or third-grade) when kids were first started reading books like "Charlie & the Chocolate Factory". The film's producer and director took some creative liberties with the title (for example, naming it Willy Wonka) and also with some parts of the story, like adding a scene where Charlie and his grandfather drink fizzy lifting drinks and must burp to keep from floating away, which the author told the British press he absolutely detested, hence he avoided licensing any of his other books to be made into films while he was still alive.

I will say there have been movie versions of a few other Roald Dahl books since he died, including Disney's rendition of "James and the Giant Peach", and Twentieth Century Fox's "Fantastic Mr. Fox", and I actually like "James and the Giant Peach" best from a production standpoint.  But the original Willie Wonka movie will always have a place in my memory so I'd say its more like a tie.

Speculation on What Author Roald Dahl's Perspective Would Be on 2009 Film Remake

As I already noted, Hollywood remade the movie in 2009 and the star was Johnny Depp (they also called the film "Charlie & the Chocolate Factory" which was the real title of the book, not "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory", in part because the author said he felt the other title diminished the story about the child's experience and focused inappropriately on the owner of the factory instead, which was probably a fair criticism). While there was lots to like about new version, I suspect the author might also have hated the remade version, too. The reason: the part about Charlie's father being a dentist was NEVER in his original book. In the original book, Charlie's mother is a widow raising her son, parents and in-laws in a tiny house with a low-paying job, so Tim Burton took a great deal of creative liberties with the story as well, which was one reason why the British author reportedly hated the 1971 version.  However, as I noted already, I think the script of the original film follows the book more closely than the new version.

Willy Wonka Cast: Where Are They Now & A TV Reunion

In any event, to commemorate the original film's anniversary, I happened to notice a while back in one of the New York daily tabloid newspapers, in this case The Daily News, has run a series of "Where are they now?" updates on various movies and TV shows over the years, and they did one about Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (probably in anticipation of the film's anniversary). You can view the Daily News feature (which includes a cool slideshow presentation on many cast members both then and now) for the original Willy Wonka movie at http://goo.gl/VKrL.

I also discovered that back around the time of the original Willy Wonka movie's 40th anniversary, NBC's Today Show had a cast reunion (including the cast of children from the film; curiously, Gene Wilder who played Willy Wonka in the flick was not there even though he lives in New York where the Today show is filmed) which can be seen at http://on.msnbc.com/kH1Ywh:

They also established a website at http://www.willywonkamovie.com where you can view the trailer for the revised version. According to one of the PRESS RELEASES, "To honor the 40th anniversary of the film, Warner Brothers digitally remastered the original movie and re-released a high-definition, BlueRay version on October 4, 2011".

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition supposedly contains more than an hour of extras, including Mel Stuart's Wonkavision, a new interview with the director; a new featurette about Roald Dahl, author of the book upon which the movie is based; a 144-page production book reprint filled with photos and notes; and archival letters. The package also contained a retro Wonka Bar-shaped tin box with scented pencils and eraser.

The trailer is below (you must watch this one from my blog, not your RSS reader):

Personally, I like reunions like the Today Show version.  While BlueRay is nice, my recollections were watching this movie on a 19-inch TV via the airwaves (pre-cable days) so the reception wasn't great, hence my expectations and recollections are pretty low to start with.  However, having the content digitized may ensure it lasts a bit longer than the many, many movies that have yet to be converted, with the added benefit of being able to stream it to wireless devices (if you buy it).

Author P.S., November 11, 2015:  In celebration of the 44th anniversary of the film "Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory", NBC's Today show had the full cast (at least the children) from the movie, and this time ALL of them were there.  Check out http://on.today.com/1SJ1CZd for a link to the video clip on Today (at least for the time-being).

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