From the bleak child abuse of Matilda to the matrimonial nightmare that is The Twits, Roald Dahl’s children’s novels are infamously dark considering their intended audience – which is probably why they’re so widely beloved. It’s a difficult tonal balancing act to master, which probably explains why the movie adaptations have generally been hit and miss. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory is one of the earliest efforts, and arguably one of the most successful.
Dahl himself didn’t quite agree, angrily distancing himself from the 1971 movie after his initial screenplay was tampered with to include scenes not featured in the source material – most notably a tacked-on happy ending and a scene in which Charlie breaks Wonka’s rules as flagrantly as any of the other, ostensibly less deserving children.
These changes do lend a slightly uneven tone to the movie, as does the fact that it takes half of the film’s runtime before we even step through the doors of Wonka inc. But as flawed as Willy Wonka is, it still manages to capture much of the deliciously sinister oddness at the heart of the book, largely thanks to Gene Wilder’s iconic interpretation of the lead character, and the film’s very of its time willingness to fully imply that the greedy, bratty children who fall prey to their own vices in Wonka’s factory may very well indeed perish as a result. (The less beloved Tim Burton remake hedged its bets here with a scene of the children escaping the factory relatively unharmed).
For this week’s episode, BBC Radio DJ and host of the Friends with Friends podcast Pete Allison joins us to share his memories of the childhood classic, indulge in some well-chosen drinking games and to help us to pitch some modern day sequel ideas that conveniently ignore the existence of Dahl’s much less popular follow-up Charlie & The Great Glass Elevator.
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Next time, we’ll be inviting yet another special guest to discuss a whimsical coming of age drama featuring a rare decent post 2000s Bruce Willis performance. Until then, happy listening and remember – always read the terms and conditions before you sign…