This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on 366weirdmovies.com‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Director: Mel Stuart
Starring: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, & Peter Ostrum
What’s it about?
Eccentric candy factory owner Willy Wonka invites five lucky children to tour his factory, but instead of candy, they each get to learn a lesson about being a decent human being.
Is it any good?
Chances are, you’ve probably seen this version of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s fable, so you’ve already formed your own opinion about it. Some people love it unconditionally, while others think it’s the most disturbing thing ever created. When I saw that this version made it on to the weird movie list, I was honestly kind of shocked. But like most people who watched this film at a young age, I never really questioned the weird bits. Oh, some girl turns into a giant blueberry? Whatever. Wonka takes the children through a tunnel of nightmares while screaming about the “grisly reaper mowing?” Yeah, that makes sense.
When you really think about it, Willy Wonka is pretty fucked up. This reclusive candy tycoon leads a bunch of children into his secret factory and essentially punishes them in the most bizarre ways right in front of their parents. And while they’re being punished, these small orange creatures dance around and sing about how terrible they are. Now that I really think about it, this film is nightmare fuel for small children.
Okay, so now that we’ve established that this film is, in fact, worthy of the list, let’s see if it actually stands the test of time. I could preface this by saying this is merely by opinion, but I’m just going to come right out and say it: Mel Stuart’s version of this story is miles better than Tim Burton’s. While I do love Burton, just about all of his remakes are terrible. The 1971 version captured the whimsy of the book without making it too creepy, which was the major issue with Burton’s remake. Wonka remains a bit of a mystery in this one–he’s more of a legend than a man, and that’s how the children see him. Johnny Depp’s Wonka was a caricature (and he was honestly far too annoying for me).
If you get past the ’70s cheese, the atmosphere of the film is pure childlike wonder. The sets are real (no over-saturated CGI here), so even though the idea of having a candy garden inside a building is ridiculous, it still has a sense of realism to it. Watching it without the nostalgia goggles, the Oompa Loompa songs are kind of irritating, and some of the acting is a bit lackluster, but overall, it’s maintained its classic status.
Now that I’m thinking about it, there are probably a ton of films I used to watch as a kid that are just as bizarre as this one. Look out for some of the other children’s film on the list, and maybe a little commentary on just what kids find weird in movies.
Grade: B+ (for wonder, whimsy, and just a dash of terror)
Weirdness Score: 7/10 (or, weird enough to make you reconsider how great it would be to live in a candy factory)
[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]