As someone who has been lying about being related to Roald Dahl on my résumé, I have been forced to familiarize myself with many of his classic works. One of his most beloved books is Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. And since most people think books are haunted by ghosts of nerds, it was later adapted into a beloved film and sarcastic meme factory starring Gene Wilder and Directed by Mel Stuart. Sure, it also turned out a subpar Tim Burton visual bombardment starring Johnny Depp, but the earth promised itself to forget about it lest we all start going at each other like those monkeys in 2001: A Space Odyssey. On a more positive note, it also inspired a horror/comedy themed adaptation starring Christopher Lloyd as Willy Wonka. In case you were wondering if an Oompa Loompa will eat a human being, the answer is right here in this video.
What we are going to concentrate on is that first film, since it is arguably the best and shaped the mind and hearts of everyone who saw it (except my dad, who oddly says he hates the movie, which totally makes me question my parentage.) And much like when you find out that most food coloring is made of crude oil, this delicious film is full of highly questionable material. Some of it you may have noticed before, since you are such a handsome and intelligence audience (please like and subscribe) but I’m next to certain I’ve managed to scrounge up some weird secrets even you all didn’t know.
So after Agustus Gloop gets sucked up the Gloop Tube™ the tour manages to continue, instead of everyone freaking out and calling the cops. The next stage of the tour involves them jumping into a boat to sail down the chocolate river (as one is want to do). The children’s and their irresponsible adult chauffeurs all take their seats and the adventure continues into childlike wonder and child disappearance. And the boat ride is fairly pleasant right before the nightmare tunnel, I mean the seats look comfortable enough and –wait, those seats…
There’s exactly the right number of seats.
In a perfect world where hefty German children don’t get suctioned into a dark room through a tube, the Gloop family would still be on the tour with everyone else. So the boat Wonka had ready would have some empty seats... uh oh.
Sometime later in the excitement, the children must get on yet another whimsical vehicle to get from one stupid point to another, the kids and their chaperones must board some fizzy device. The whole thing is a contrived way to wash everyone, which makes me think that Wonka might be a germaphobe with a very low opinion of people outside his factory. But wait, as everyone gets into their seats, we notice that the vehicle the exact right number of seats all over again!
At this point, the disappearance count is actually higher, so there should be a plethora of empty seats if Willy was planning on using that car the whole time. So that means that he knew people would be dropping like chocolate flies along the tour, which means these are less accidents and more a candy themed version of Saw with a few cute songs.
The Chocolate Room was a fairly interactive place for the actors, with many things being made of actual candy, or at least being breakable in a fun way. The Director wanted the joy and excitement the kids were displaying to be as close to genuine as possible, so if the kids had to interact with it, it was a fun prop. Well, for the most part. There aren’t a lot of ways to make a rock fun, so they just threw some dirty old rock on the set for Veruca to back a candy against.
Unfortunately, nobody told Julie Dawn Cole, and she thought it was a soft prop. She skinned her knee pretty hard during one of the scenes, and you can actually see her soaked sock used in some of the scenes. A skinned knee seems like a far better fate than what would later happen to a majority of the characters.
The common knowledge is that everything in Hollywood is fake. The fight scenes, the explosions, the beautiful people. This extends to “kids movies (I put this in quotes because this movie is like a neon Dante’s Inferno) which seems obvious, especially in highly special effects heavy film like Willy Wonka. For example, people assume that the foam coming out of the foam wash car thing is just foam and not an actual soap.
It definitely wasn’t soap.
In fact, it was the foam that comes out of fire extinguishers, which seems like the kind of prop that would be super handy to have on hand. Until you remember that it is a terrible irritant to human skin. Yes, the bizarre car wash scene ended up giving the cast members a gross rash and it delayed filming for a few weeks. Now you have the image of Gene Wilder covered in blisters stuck in your head.
The flavored wallpaper intended for nursery rooms is an incredible invention. Everyone seems to enjoy the flavor they get saddled with, although I think that’s because nobody landed on Snozzberries. Yes, Willy Wonka states that the Snozzberries taste like Snozzberries, before being rebuked by one of the children. This prompts him to grab her face and quote Ode by Arthur O’Shaughnessy for reasons that are only clear to a purple maniac.
What the heck are Snozzberries?
For the most part, it’s a gibberish word invented by Roald Dahl. But most people assume he created the word for Charlie & The Charlie Factory when really he had a private meaning to it all along. In his 1979 work My Uncle Oswald a character states that if they grab onto a man’s snozzberry, and gives it a twist, they can get them under control. Doesn’t leave much room to the imagination as to what appendage does that.
The first reveal of the Chocolate Room is still a cinematic marvel. It is an enormous set filled with authentic prop pieces that still hold up scrutiny even by today’s standards. I’m somewhat jaded by today’s special effects, and I can still say I’m impressed, so I can’t imagine what the minds of people from 1971 were thinking. On top of that, the acting from every single actor is impeccable; with everyone reacting as if this was the first time they had seen such a wonderful room.
I guess with a sentence like that previous one, you can probably guess that it was a genuine reaction from the actors. They had never seen the room before at the Director’s behest. He wanted the actors to look exactly as the audience would, with incredulity that anyone would be able to create something so vibrant and all-encompassing. It’s a pretty brilliant decision.
Obviously, that bizzarro tunnel scene is going to come up, because it is a moment of sheer terror in an otherwise lighthearted movie about children being mangled beyond recognition. Willy Wonka just takes these kids on a boat ride through a hellish landscape where people have bugs on their face and lights give anyone looking at them seizures. The kids and adults alike realize they have made a grave error in coming here, something they should have realized when a man thought it would be a funny prank to fake his own health conditions.
That’s actual terror on their faces.
It should come as no surprise at this point that the actors were not warned ahead of time what was going to happen in the tunnel. Many of the kids believed that Gene Wilder had genuinely lost his mind, which is actually kind of his gimmick, he does it all the time.
Right near the end of the film, Charlie is looking to claim his grand prize, which I think he deserves for staying quiet about Wonka’s House of Horrors. At this brilliant moment, Willy freaks out and just unloads on Charlie, chewing him out for stealing Fizzy Lifting Drink. I get that it was a morality thing and he wanted to see who actually deserved the factory, but you can see actual heartbreak in Charlie’s face.
Can you guess why?
There was a running theme of not telling the actors what nightmare was coming up for them, so of course, the actor who played Charlie was never warned that he was about to be yelled at. This really upset Gene Wilder, since he had become friends with the child over the course of filming, and desperately wanted to tell him that he wasn’t genuinely mad at the boy. The director forbid it.
Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie Bucket in the film, did a pretty convincing job of a luckless kid suddenly falling head over heels into a world of delight and child endangerment. Many people around Hollywood thought he would be the next big star, hoping to see more of the boy who inherited a factory. He was charming and cute and seemed to have something of a range. So why haven’t we all seen more of him since then?
That was his only movie.
Unsurprisingly, not being told that you are about to be scared witless multiple times during a film shoot doesn’t leave a good impression of what acting is all about. Peter decided that acting just simply isn’t for him, and walked away from it all. Judging by what you hear from countless other child stars, that may have been the smartest move of his entire career. Oh well.
In the original film, Charlie lives with his bedridden Grandparents and his mom and…that’s it. For some reason, his father is no longer with us. This isn’t even a part of the source material, Charlie totally lives with his dad too, who works in a toothpaste factory. Which means, sadly, that somehow Tim Burton was slightly more accurate, at least in this one regard. And his depiction of the squirrel room vs. the depiction of a golden goose room. The book only had squirrels. But I digress.
What is the point of making Charlie without a father? Was it too much for delicate 1970s minds to depict a down and out family without also having them be missing a father figure? Or did they think this created a more tragic figure, as if living in a leaking house with a destitute family wasn’t downtrodden enough? Or maybe they were just big fans of comic book heroes (who are all orphaned.)
Musicals have always had a weird vibe, where people just burst into songs about gross stuff like rent or feelings. They take a solid twenty minutes to dance around and shout exposition right into the camera, and this is all supposed to be off the cuff, through the magic of passion. I can suspend my disbelief that it might happen in these universes, sure, but in Willy Wonka some of the songs seem to be less about what the person is thinking or feeling, and more of like a rehearsed scolding.
I’m of course talking about the songs that the Oompa Loompas break into whenever a child falls victim to poetic justice. They seem to have intimate and personal knowledge of the exact workings of each child’s life, and these are less musings and more a rehearsed telling of why it is ok to take joy in seeing a child meet a grisly demise.
There’s a shoehorned scene where a candy shop owner breaks out into a song about candy. This song was a massive success for years to come, and we owe it all to this bit character. He prances about his shop, doing his duties whole singing about he is pretty much the greatest dude on the planet, and everyone should love him. He seems to be an ally of the children interested in their happiness, but what if he wasn’t?
What if he was just a jerk?
You see, if you go back and watch the scene (here’s a link) you’ll notice that when he steps out from behind the counter, he whacks a little girl in the face with it. And he doesn’t even falter in his song. So what if he is just interested in that sweet money (pun intended) and not in children at all? Which seems like foreshadowing…
The first room those grubby children are introduced to is that wonderful chocolate river, where they promptly act out their inner Godzilla fantasies and begin eating everything in sight. Eggs, flowers, trees, rocks, and other stuff you don’t normally eat outside of episodes of My Strange Addiction. Kids hunch over the river and begin just lapping up a tonne of the stuff, dipping their sweaty little mini sausages right into Wonka’s key ingredient.
How is that not a health code violation?
It’s 1971, a time that was notoriously lax on health standards, but come on. There has to be some standards about not letting children, which are just slimy tiny monsters that get chicken pox, touching everything in sight. And it isn’t just this room, these kids stomp around everywhere, including the invention room. It’s gross, and I think the only reason Wonka closed his doors for so long was to keep out health inspectors.
Continuity is a hard thing to maintain in a film, especially when it comes to children. Kids go through massive growth spurts and voice changes while filming (if you listen, you can hear Charlie’s voice change octaves throughout the film) so it is important to get your film in the can as fast as possible. Other times, there are things you can’t avoid changing while filming from start to finish and those differences sometimes end up in the finished product.
Veruca’s hair changes lengths throughout the film.
Apparently, Julie Dawn Cole’s hair was quite prone to ending in split ends, so the producers kept thinking that they needed to be burned off. Yes, burned. I don’t have the specifics of whether the burns were accidental or on purpose, but I do know that a child’s hair was burned repeatedly, resulting in a kid getting progressively shorter hair during a film shoot.
Oh that wacky Willy Wonka, he just pulls out a teacup while everyone is having such a merry old time (for now…) and just when you think we are seeing the normal side of Willy, we see that he bites into the cup! Hilarious! Cool! My heartstrings! Yes, when he said everything in the room was edible, he meant it. He even looks delighted to be sampling his own products for a change!
Except, that’s all acting on Gene Wilder’s part. Sure, there were a lot of edible props in a lot of scenes, and the kids got to happily sample them, but that cup definitely wasn’t one of them. It was clearly made of wax, and Wilder had to chew it up like it was delicious candy all the same. Between takes, he had to spit out a wad of terribly flavored wax. And I’m not just supposing it tasted bad, when asked about it years later, Wilder confirmed that it was awful.
After Violet begins chewing the fateful gum, she starts to turn purple before ballooning up. When her father becomes alarmed at what is happening (I don’t think they had EpiPens in 1971) he goes over to check on her. At this point, she has become so large that her belt violently snaps off, showing that she isn’t done transitioning into a giant blueberry. It’s a cool effect for its’ time, but since they hadn’t yet invented CGI they needed a few hands-on help to pull off the scene.
You can clearly see her father adjust the belt.
Don’t just take my word for it, take a look for yourself at this clip. The actor who plays her father doesn’t even try all that hard to hide the fact that he’s tinkering with something back there. His eyes and hands are clearly fiddling about with a mechanism, and a moment later, the belt bursting moment dazzles us all.
The Oompa Loompas breaking into songs about why it’s fine and dandy to throw children into an incinerator is pretty much my favorite part of this fever dream. That being said, even when I was a kid, I noticed something was off about some of the singing. Or more accurately, the Oompa Loompas who seemed to be singing but weren’t. While researching this article, I finally found the answer why!
They don’t know the words.
Oh, the answer was that simple. They hired actors from all over the world to fill the part of the diminutive Oompa Loompas, so many of them didn’t know how to speak English. So the director just told them to mouth along, to mime as if they were singing, and to mimic the motions of the actors around them. It worked in a way, since the lip-synching isn’t so totally off as to be distracting.
One of the most impressive special effects in the whole film has to be that first room that blows everyone’s minds. The centerpiece of the whole room is the chocolate river, which genuinely looks pretty tasty. I’ll admit that most prop food has always looked suspiciously inedible to me, so I was surprised by the legitimate chocolate milk quality of the river. How does one get something that has to be unsafe for human consumption end up looking so dang delicious?
It’s partially made of actual cocoa.
In fact, it was so much like food, it did what that weird, black Tupperware at the back of your fridge does and began to spoil. Towards the end of the film shoot, the river began to become rancid, filling the room with a rancid smell. Workers began to avoid the room, only entering when filming had finished and they had decided to tear the whole set down.
So that nincompoop Austus Gloop (oh dear lord, have a started to rhyme?) got sucked up a chocolate tube to be taken to the fudge room, I think? And later Veruca Salt gets labeled a bad egg and falls down a chute. All that seems fine since Wonka is kind of loose when it comes to safety features. He would go on to design the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. What becomes suspicious is the chute and tube design.
Why are they exactly children sized?
Sure, Augustus gets stuck for just a second, but there’s no need for a chocolate tube to be that wide at all. This becomes even more apparent when Veruca falls down a chute, which is less of a garbage disposal and more of a trap door. There’s no need to a small opening that sorts eggs to be large enough to fit both Veruca, and then her father.
Violet turning into a giant blueberry was always the weirdest scene for me when I was a kid. Of all of the body horror that gets inflicted to the kids, hers seems the most horrific. I mean, all the other kids are openly bad people, but she just likes to chew gum. Why is that a quality that deserves having your anatomy completely changed? Anyways, you can probably assume that they had to use violet paint to make Violet turn violet.
The paint seeped into her pores.
Weeks after filming wrapped up and she was all squeaky clean, Denise Nickerson, the actress who played Violet, began to turn purple in class. Apparently, the paint they had used on her had been absorbed into her body, and long afterward, it began to be pushed out again, causing her to turn a weird shade all over again. Talk about life imitating art.
The Great Gum Machine is both one of my favorite props in the movie, and one that hasn’t aged well at all. You can tell that it is just moving about to and fro, creating nothing. There are boxing gloves pounding flour, a mallet smashing some tomatoes, I’m pretty sure I saw a plate of mashed potatoes (makes sense, considering that’s one of the flavors of the gum.) For a brief moment, you are treated to a scene showing bees climbing all over a honeycomb.
Those are wasps.
I guess that bees weren’t dangerous enough for a film about children being taken off screen, so they replaced fuzzy little bees with wasps for that brief glimpse. If you are looking to me for an actual answer as to why, I couldn’t tell you, and frankly, I don’t feel like trying to figure it out. You know what they say about staring into the abyss.
I always liked that Willy Wonka’s office had everything cut in half and never really explained it. This was a rare glimpse inside the mind of a madman, and the whole office must have made sense to him, in some way. Maybe a statement on the frivolousness of some people’s office’s, and how you can get done the same amount of work with only half the amount of product. Maybe’s that’s his whole philosophy on life.
Turns out, it’s just in half because it looked cool.
The Director couldn’t bare to see the film end in such a drab and boring manner, so he decided to weird things up a bit just by cutting all the props in half. So he sent all the workman to start sawing things, and reportedly, a workman became confused and thought he was cutting a prop coffee machine in half, when in reality, it was a functioning one. He realized his mistake when it began to leak everywhere.
As far as anyone is concerned, and as written by Roald Dahl in the original novel, the Oompa Loompas are completely monogendered, like slugs or plants. Their physiology and culture is supposed to be a complete mystery, and flies in the face of everything we know about sentient beings. Of course, in the book, they have sharpened teeth, which I think was incredibly missing from both movies, but for the most part, their just weird human-like creatures that hail from Loompaland. But something is slightly off about one of them if you pay extremely close attention to the first film.
One of them is a female.
They only use this female extra for background shots, and she looks nothing like the picture I used above (it’s incredibly hard to capture a still of her) but she is there. It was entirely too hard to find actors who fit the bill as Oompa Loompas in regards to height as well as finding some that were all male.
We all love that somersault scene when the kids are first introduced to Willy Wonka. It’s such a huge fake out, to see a man collapse of what we have to assume is a chocolate-related attack only to spring up and act like nothing happened. It pretty much sets the tone for the whole movie, something awful and something grand. It’s a near perfect scene.
One of the things holding it back from being truly perfect is the fact that if you view it a second time, it is easy to see Gene Wilder stick his cane into a Styrofoam brick right before launching into his impressive somersault. It kind of takes away from the immersion when you can see an obvious movie prop just staring you in the face. Next you’ll tell me that the wallpaper wasn’t flavored and that Oompa Loompas are just some short fellows painted orange.
One of the most iconic scenes of Willy Wonka Evades The Authorities is when Charlie and his Grandpa Joe drink Fizzy Lifting Drink, a pop when grants the drinker the ability to fly. Ignoring the fact that this would definitely be commandeered by the military, this is a cool little room that doesn’t seem like a death trap. And then, of course, after drinking it against Willy Wonka’s wishes, Joe and Charlie begin to float towards the giant fan at the top of the room.
Why is that fan there?
There are lots of dangerous rooms in the factory, but at least the danger had explanations. As far as we have seen, this is the only room with a giant fan, and it is solely for the room in which people may have been able to float. I’m next to certain that the only reason Wonka installed an industrial fan was because having sharp spikes on the ceiling would be too on the nose.
The name differences between the film and the original source material always seemed a bit strange to me. The character arc we truly follow is that of Charlie, so he should be the titular character. I understand that Willy Wonka is weird and fun, and the most entertaining character in the whole story, but he is more of a prop piece, even in the film version.
So why change the name of the film?
The answer is kind of macabre. The film was made during the long-running battle we know as the Vietnam War. In that war, the enemies of the American troops were called “Charlie” to one another to save time. The makers of the film thought that it might be bad for sales if the name of an ongoing enemy of the United States was front and centre on all the posters and marketing material. I guess that makes sense.