I finally picked up a copy of the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – 30th Anniversary DVD the other day. You know, I have really mixed feelings about this film. On one hand I have the same cheesy feelings of nostalgia and love for it that all Generation Xers have. On the other hand, as a Roald Dahl expert I find it to be a cheap, shoddy, craptacular adaptation of the book. So I had a lot of conflicting emotions while watching the “cast commentary” version today. My thoughts:

  • While it was great to have all five of the kids there, I wish they had actually shown them grown-up at the start (a la the terrific Goonies DVD commentary). Instead you just get voice introductions, and it’s a little hard at first to remember who’s who.
  • Just as in the film, Charlie and Augustus don’t say a lot. Mike, Veruca, and Violet dominate the discussion. I guess that’s not surprising, considering those three stayed in the acting profession while the other two quit and faded from public view.
  • Veruca and Violet were both hot for Charlie in a big way. Apparently Veruca won and Violet ended up with some random other blond extra kid. Violet is still bitter about this, and the two of them spent most of the commentary laughing about it. They kept trying to get Charlie to comment, but he seemed embarrassed and wouldn’t say anything.
  • You could totally hear them trying to pull Augustus into the conversation and failing. He’s only in the movie for about fifteen minutes anyway, so once he’d gone up the pipe he was pretty much silent. They finally just resorted to asking him for German pronunciations and landmark identification every so often.
  • Damn. I’ve corresponded with both Mike and Violet (via my Dahl site), so I was totally hoping for a shout-out. Denied.
  • The only mention of Dahl’s name occurred when Mike referred to one of the schoolteacher’s speeches as “So Roald Dahl.” Which was utter crap, since that bit didn’t come from the original book and didn’t sound anything like typical Dahl.
  • Dahl only makes a few appearances in the extra documentary and featurette, as well. The director never explains why he decided to throw out all of the Oompa-Loompas original songs in favor of the dreadful Bricusse/Newley ones. He also mentions but never fully explains why Dahl’s original script was torn to shit and rewritten by someone else. He does, however, tell the thrilling tale of how the entire film was conceived and produced merely to sell a new Quaker Oats candy bar (that ended up flopping completely). Well, at least no one will be in any danger of presuming the producers’ intentions to be artistic.

See what I mean? I start out with nice feelings towards the film, but that quickly fades when I realize how great it could have been and how crappy and commercial it turned out. I feel sad that my generation venerates such a shallow marketing ploy as a cinematic classic. Mostly I feel for Roald Dahl, who hated the end result and resented having his name put to it. Sure, he wasn’t the greatest writer in the world, but at least he wasn’t responsible for “Oompa loompa doompety doo.”

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  1. I never liked the film; guess because I had read Dahl first. I think that was my first bad book to movie experience. I hated hated hated Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. I could never like a movie with him in it because of that.

    In my opinion there are only 3 instances of good books (books I really enjoyed) translated effectively into movies: Gone with the Wind, Little Women (yes, the Winona Rider version, ignoring her valley accent and the silly change to the romantic ending), and Lord of the Rings (despite the excessive use of Liv Tyler).

  2. See, I’d go with the first two, but my Tolkien obsessed boyfriend isn’t 100% pleased with the first LOTR movie. So maybe it just has to do with your level of fandom for the original work. For instance, I thought the film version of “Gilbert Grape” was good, even though it left huge bits of the book out (not that they could put it in anyway; it was all Gilbert’s thoughts). But I didn’t LOVE the book, so it was okay with me.

  3. On the topic of Dahl adaptations, I reckon The Witches movie ROCKED!

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