#35. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
In 1964, British author Roald Dahl published Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a story features the adventures of young Charlie Bucket inside the chocolate factory of eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka, by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. in the United States, and in the United Kingdom by George Allen & Unwin in 1967. The book was adapted into two major motion pictures: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory in 1971, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2005. The book’s sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, was written by Roald Dahl in 1972. Dahl had also planned to write a third book in the series but never finished it.
The story was originally inspired by Roald Dahl’s experience of chocolate companies during his school days. Cadbury would often send test packages to the schoolchildren in exchange for their opinions on the new products. At that time (around the 1920s), Cadbury and Rowntree’s were England’s two largest chocolate makers and they each often tried to steal trade secrets by sending spies, posing as employees, into the other’s factory. Because of this, both companies became highly protective of their chocolate making processes. It was a combination of this secrecy and the elaborate, often gigantic, machines in the factory that inspired Dahl to write the story.
Although the book has always been popular and considered a children’s classic by many literary critics, a number of prominent individuals have spoken critically of the novel over the years. Children’ novelist and literary historian, John Rowe Townsend, has described the book as “fantasy of an almost literally nauseating kind” and accused it of “astonishing insensitivity” regarding the original portrayal of the Oompa-Loompas as black pygmies, although Dahl did revise this later. Another novelist, Eleanor Cameron, compared the book to the candy that forms its subject matter, commenting that it is “delectable and soothing while we are undergoing the brief sensory pleasure it affords but leaves us poorly nourished with our taste dulled for better fare”. Ursula K. Le Guin voiced her support for this assessment in a letter to Cameron. Defenders of the book have pointed out it was unusual for its time in being quite dark for a children’s book, with the “antagonists” not being adults or monsters (as is the case even for most of Dahl’s books) but the naughty children, who receive sadistic revenges in the end. A fan of the book since childhood, film director Tim Burton states, “I responded to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because it respected the fact that children can be adults.”
The book was first made into a feature film as a musical titled Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, directed by Mel Stuart, produced by David L. Wolper and starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, character actor Jack Albertson as Grandpa Joe, and Peter Ostrum as Charlie Bucket. Released worldwide on 30 June 1971 and distributed by Paramount Pictures (Warner Bros. is the current owner), the film had an estimated budget of $2.9 million. The film grossed only $4 million and, while it passed its budget, was still considered a box-office disappointment. While the movie was complete with the 1970’s psychedelic glamour, I was disappointed in that they not only didn’t stick closer with the story line and details of the book, but also that they choose to use Gene Wilder as Willie Wonka. I’m not a huge fan of Gene Wilder, and thought there would have been better choices for the role. Concurrently with the 1971 film, a line of candies was introduced by the Quaker Oats Company in North America, Europe, and Oceania that uses the book’s characters and imagery for its marketing. Presently sold in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, the candies are produced in the United States, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Brazil, by Nestlé. I didn’t realize that a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory video game was created. It was released for the ZX Spectrum in 1985 by developers Soft Option Ltd and publisher Hill MacGibbon.
Another film version, titled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and directed by Tim Burton, was released on 15 July 2005; this version starred Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, Freddie Highmore as Charlie Bucket, Deep Roy as the Oompa-Loompas, and Geoffrey Holder as the Narrator. The Brad Grey production was a hit, grossing about $470 million worldwide with an estimated budget of $150 million. It was distributed by Warner Bros. The 1971 and 2005 films are consistent with the written work to varying degrees. The Burton film, in particular, greatly expanded Willy Wonka’s personal back-story borrowing many themes and elements from the sequel. While both films, heavily expanded the personalities of the four “bad” children and their parents from the limited descriptions in the book, I felt that casting Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, combined with modern technology created a far more visually fulfilling film. Again, another video game was released, this one based on Burton’s adaption. On 1 April 2006, the British theme park, Alton Towers, opened a family boat ride attraction themed around the story. The ride features a boat section, where guests travel around the chocolate factory in bright pink boats on a chocolate river. In the final stage of the ride, guests enter one of two glass elevators, where they join Willy Wonka as they travel the factory, eventually shooting up and out through the glass roof.
While there were complaints about the level of reality in the book, I feel that children should be tactfully introduced to real world problems, especially problems that affect children. The author chooses to express the fact that the world can be a grim and unfair place. Parents need to know that, overall, this story is told in an inspiring fairy-tale tradition, and it appeals to the strong sense of natural justice in children, where people, both bad and good, get exactly what they deserve. He invites them to revel in the marvelously imagined world, vividly told like a wild ride with amusing, cartoon-like sketches that will keep kids excited and laughing. Various forms of bad behavior are demonstrated—but the punishments perfectly fit the crimes. Overall, it was well written, so full of imagery and energy.
Although I was not interested in reading another children’s book, it was not a disappointing read, bringing back memories from my childhood.