40 Years of Music, Whimsy, and Beheaded Chickens


What is this, a freak out?  ~from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

My name is Willy Wonka and I am not a nice man

Certain things stay with you as you get older. In my case it was several things: the ginormous needle used to draw my blood, my evil great-aunt with long fingernails, the horse slowly sinking into the swamp from The NeverEnding Story and, maybe most indelibly, the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. I’m not yet 40 myself but I, along with millions of other Gen X kids, were born and bred on this scrumdiddlyumptious piece of wonder. It’s a flick that never seems to age. Gene Wilder is Wonka, no matter what anybody else says, and he plays him as Roald Dahl intended. Which is to say, a complete son of a bitch who happens to be witty and clever.
 
Willy Wonka is one of those morality plays I’ve always enjoyed: a satire disguised as a children’s story in which the bad kids all suck it and the one good kid (Charlie), after many trials, is justly rewarded at the end. It’s got plenty of whimsy but it’s not necessarily a happy story. No Disney-esque singing bluebirds or trees in sight, but there are those curious orange-faced Oompa Loompas. And then there’s this infamous scene, which everyone seems to remember:
 
 
We go from sedate Fantasyland ride and happy music to…BAM…an acid trip worthy of the late-period Beatles! Slugs crawling on some guy’s face! Strobe lighting! Gene Wilder and his creepy rhyming sing-song monologue! And that damn chicken with its head getting cut off, which I still can’t figure out after all these years. That chocolate river looks kinda red rather than brown…wonder if it was laced with a combination of LSD and Red No. 2? I, along with my Gen X cohorts, was scared silly. I figured if I were bad, being turned into a giant blueberry might be a light punishment next to a trip down the Wonka Tunnel. (Don’t get me started on Mr. Slugworth-he was the stuff of nightmares AND reminded me of my homeroom teacher.)
 
Unlike a lot of purists, I enjoyed Tim Burton’s 2005 version, though not half as much as the original classic. One can say the acting is bad, or the special effects corny, or the pop culture references dated. I’m sticking to my belief that some movies should never be remade, and that Willy Wonka is one of them. I’m headed to see a musical stage version this evening and I know that while I might get a bit scared, Charlie and Grandpa Joe and Mr. Wonka will all live happily ever after in the end, just as they’ll always remain the same for me in the 1971 version. And I’ll never need a Golden Ticket for that…I can watch whenever I like.
 
Scrumdiddlyumptious, indeed.
 

Willy Wonka: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on October 20, 2011.

6 Responses to “40 Years of Music, Whimsy, and Beheaded Chickens”

  1. The boat trip scene still freaks me out to this day. It was kinda weird having something that graphic show up in a children’s movie.

  2. Let us know about the musical version!

  3. The Oompa Loompas gloat about the mutilation of children *in song*. I can’t forgive them for that…

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