7 July 1971: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory


In this super-sized anniversary analysis, enjoy Anna and Ben’s discussion about whether children’s entertainment has a duty to be moral, whether Gene WIlder was scripted or unhinged, and whether this film holds up to either scrutiny or our childhood memories. And try not to count how many times Ben says something is “Fascinating…”

Sources and References:

The original print reviews of Willy Wonka from 1971: Howard Thompson’s unfavorable New York Times review and Roger Ebert’s considerably more generous one, where he asserts it’s “the best film of its sort since The Wizard of Oz.”

Most of Ben’s research came from the Jeremy Treglown’s unauthorized biography of Roald Dahl, and the “making of” text Pure Imagination by Mel Stuart with Josh Young. The latter was also the source of the reprint of the Quaker Oats ad that referenced the 1967 Swedish sexploitation film I am Curious (Yellow) while advertizing their upcoming slate of family friendly films.

The 1971 Times editorial claiming that “Willy Wonka” isn’t actually a children’s film can be found in the TimesMachine archives, and reprints of the 1973 editorials in Horn Book where Dahl’s literary merits were taken to task are reprinted on the Horn Book website. (Dahl’s initial defensive reply is also reproduced there.)

For less contemporaneous takes, the anecdotal experience of a rental run of Willy Wonka, thirty years after its release, was in the New York Times, and the Guardian’s fiftieth anniversary take that the film was never very good and Dahl was justified in disliking it can be found here. A Washington Post article entitled “The Disturbing Mr. Dahl” was recently flagged up because of the anniversary, and it delves into the morality issues that Dahl foisted off on his youthful public. And a history of the racial problems of the Oompa Loompa’s is summarized by Layla Eplett. Originally published in Gastronomicia: the Journal of Critical Food Studies by University of California Press, I found it for free in the previous link.

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