Sunday, September 7, 2008

Willy Wonka and Parenting

My daughter has discovered Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Her favorite part is the “blue girl.” “Violet, you’re turning violet, Violet!”

It's always been one of my favorite movies. But watching it now with children adds to the experience. The movie takes on meaning on a whole other level.

I just watched the featurette and it was fascinating. The film was funded by Quaker Oats to promote a candy bar, the Wonka Bar, that had, get this, a design flaw. It melted before it got to store shelves and had to be pulled. So a movie came out to promote a chocolate bar, but there was no chocolate bar. Holy product tie-in fiasco, Batman!

The movie was a bomb when it came out. Parents didn’t like it and found it to be cruel and mean. All those horrible things happening to those kids! They were disappearing, shrinking, being made into giant blueberries! But kids, however, loved it. Here’s the crux of it and this is something the director Mel Stuart and author Roald Dahl knew all along. Kids didn’t find the movie cruel at all. Kids really want boundaries and limits. They don’t really want to do whatever they want. They want to be shown boundaries and they are very much aware of bad behavior and good behavior, regardless of whether they are watching it or engaging in it.

Not only do children want boundaries, they admire the person who gives them to them. That’s why kids never found Willy Wonka scary, while parents did. He’s a big kid himself, but he is also a surrogate parent who tells children where the boundaries are, and what the consequences are for crossing them. And he does it all with candy and a creepy orange skinned rather short workforce. Gene Wilder was simply astonishing in this role, if you go back and really watch him. A sugar coated anarchist with a child’s soul.

Although I will say no one talks about the nightmarish boat scene on the featurette which still is the most disturbing sequence on film in any children’s movie. How Rob Zombie was able to travel back through time and direct that sequence I’ll never know. But I will say I do fast forward through that part and won’t let Bella watch it. I remember it giving me nightmares as a kid. Worms crawling on the face, a chicken getting its head cut off, etc. Someone should have checked the editor’s backpack for his own “candy” before he went into the bay every night.

The book came out in 1964, the movie 1971. And it taught all about the perils of gluttony, being spoiled rotten, too much television and the virtues of reading books and being honest. A timeless tale with timeless lessons. You owe it to your child to put both the book and movie in his or her library. I wonder if Quaker Oats still gets royalties from the movie. “I said Good Day!”


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your post on Willy Wonka. All your points are right on the money!

Noticed that one of your favorite movies is Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, which is one of mine as well. In fact, I have watched that annually with our son, who is now 9. Not many young kids know about filibustering.

If you were going to cast a person to play a coach in a youth baseball movie that was the Willy Wonka of youth sports movies, who would you cast? My choice would be Bill Murray, or Vince Vaughn.

© Copyright • Chris Mancini • All Rights Reserved • Site by Izzy Design