As any cinephile with children can tell you, it's a challenge deciding what movies are appropriate for them to watch. There is violence to consider, plus language, sex, moral lessons, and a whole host of things to ruminate over before letting your wee one’s little brain get bombarded with stimulating images. Honestly, I tend to lean towards letting my daughter watch just about anything she wants as I truly believe young minds are able to digest and work through a whole lot more than we give them credit for. I rarely put this to the test though, as she’s just not interested in the sort of movies that might give most parents pause. If it's not a “kids” movie, then she pays it no mind.
The wife and I debated on whether or not we should take her to this screening of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. It's not that there is anything particularly objectionable in the film, but it is rather weird, and dark, and strange, and we worried that she’d not enjoy herself which means we wouldn’t enjoy herself. Turns out we were worried for nothing; she adored the movie. She’s talked about it all evening. When I told her it was based on a book, she made me promise to read it to her and then we could watch the movie again.
Introducing my daughter to the world of Roald Dahl delights me to no end. Dahl’s stories are like no other in all of literature and are perfect for any age. His tales do not take place in the sticky sweet worlds that fill up most of children’s literature but rather in dark, menacing, often very sad places filled with cruel, evil people who mistreat children as often as they can. Yet, they are also filled with enchantment, wonder, and hope.
So too is this adaption of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the title was changed to Willy Wonka... because it was financed by the Quaker Oats Company who were hoping to cash in on Wonka Chocolate Bars). What other kids' movie features half the children becoming horribly disfigured? What other family film would cast Gene Wilder as a half-crazed candyman who sarcastically tells the children not to do things that could possibly kill them?
If you’ve not seen it, the story involves Charlie (Peter Ostrum in his only film role) as a poor kid who discovers a golden ticket hidden in a chocolate bar that gives him (and four other children) a tour of Willy Wonka’s (a wonderfully unhinged Wilder) chocolate factory and a chance to win a free lifetime’s supply of candy. The other kids are terrible children with terrible parents and one by one they all suffer the most gratifying punishments for disobeying the rules. Along the way, there are songs, colorful Oompa Loompas and lots of the most imaginative sugary treats.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory endures because it takes children seriously. It doesn’t talk down to them, or ply them with sappy nonsense. It is the rare family film that works for the entire family - young and old. It demonstrates that life can be hard (for Charlie, his family are very poor and his grandparents are bedridden) and very cruel (he’s laughed at by the kids at school and Wonka is awfully mean), but can also be kind (his family clearly love him and ultimately Wonka gives him a great reward). It's a delightful (and delightfully weird, and funny, and just a little bit sad) film. Watching my daughter laugh and hide her eyes while watching was pure joy. I can’t wait to read her the book (and watch the film again).
Once again, TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz gave a brief intro and outro to the film. Every time I go to one of these Fathom/TCM movie events, I feel a slight pang in my heart for cutting the cord and no longer having TCM on my TV.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is showing one more time this coming Wednesday, June 29. You can find more info about this film and all future Fathom Events on their website.