For the work of a supposed children's author, Roald Dahl's books can be surprisingly dark and creepy. None more so than his biggest and bestest, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which is chock full of children meeting horrifying fates at the hands of an evil, power-mad candy dictator. Wait a second. You're telling us it's a heartwarming tale about learning to be responsible and obedient?
Oops. But hey, you can understand why we missed the memo—Roald Dahl walks a fine line between adorable and creepy, and while we leave his stories with warm hearts, we more often than not leave them with chilled bones, too.
So it's no surprise that while the G-rated 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory would give everyone a bad case of the willies for entire generations, it's also universally loved as a children's film classic. This puppy's got Dahl written all over it.
Dahl's script keeps the basics of the story intact, and with it, most of the general themes in the original book. Most importantly, the ever important lesson that good little children (i.e., Charlie) are rewarded, while bad ones (i.e., the other horrifying brats) get their just desserts (in the form of various candy-related tortures) gets top billing. Sure enough, after a lifetime of toil and maybe two candy bars to his name, Charlie wins Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, while the other four kids suffer hideous fates that fit their twisted, rotten souls. (None more rotten than Veruca Salt, who gets tossed down the garbage chute after singing about what a spoiled little brat she is.)
It sounds a lot like a fairy tale, which means that Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) gets to play the big, bad wolf. He comes off as a little crazy, even from the beginning (and not in a ha-ha way; in an "I could stab you in the eyeball at any minute" kind of way). We never quite know what he's going to do or which direction he's going to turn. Director Mel Stuart lends a hand to Wilder's slightly freaky performance with some seriously freaky visuals, most infamously with a boat ride that turns into pure nightmare material. That's in keeping with the book, which kept those "Once Upon a Time" qualities, but also infused it with scarier undercurrents.
Even when the moviemakers had to make changes because of the budget or other limitations, they tried to stick as close as they could to the sentiment of the original. For example, Veruca Salt originally wants a trained squirrel from Wonka's factory. On a shoestring budget, they simply couldn't get a whole room of trained squirrels, so they used geese instead. It's a tweak, to be sure (and a goose would make a far worse pet than a squirrel if you ask Shmoop), but it still captures Veruca's obnoxious sense of entitlement, and her just reward of being dumped down the garbage chute. (Parents, don't try this at home.)
There's one teeny tiny difference here that actually blows the whole premise of the book right out of the chocolate river. Charlie's supposed to be a good boy, rewarded for his patience and obedience. But in the movie, he does exactly what the other children do—he disobeys Willy Wonka by stealing Fizzy Lifting Drinks after Wonka told him not to. He and his grandfather get out of it themselves, but the fundamental point gets lost: Charlie's disobedient just like the other children—he's just less of a brat. But even if he's a good little boy most of the time, he doesn't behave any differently in the factory than the other kids. The only real difference is that he escapes being turned into a blueberry.
The filmmakers did this without Dahl's approval (thanks to a rewrite from another writer) in order to provide a more dramatic climax. In the book, it all just kind of stops when Charlie's the last kid left. That won't do for Hollywood, which likes endings that have a lot of noise and so let Wonka scream at Charlie before giving him he reward. (It's actually all part of an elaborate test on Wonka's part, but that doesn't matter. Charlie still drank the magic soda without permission, so bad on him.)
Other changes are more curious than damaging. For instance, Dahl wrote a number of songs for the Oompa Loompas in the book. The movie has Oompa Loompa songs, too, but they wrote their own instead of using Dahl's. It doesn't really change the story at all, but the original tunes we're pretty great if we may say so.
(Oh, and for the record, the title got changed to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when Quaker Oats agreed to pay for the movie. In exchange, they got the right to sell a real, honest-to-God Wonka bar, and they wanted "Wonka" front and center in the title.)
Tim Burton remade the story in 2005 with a hulkingly huge budget and Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is far more faithful to the Dahl original (except for the addition of an odd backstory involving Wonka's dentist father), but it misses some of the grinning mischief that Mel Stuart brought to the story in the original movie.
So, Shmoopers, which would you rather have—a faithful adaptation, or merry mischief? Shmoop amongst yourselves.