Book Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Title: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Author: Roald Dahl
Series: N/A
Publisher: Knopf
Publish Date: 1973
Genre: Middle Grade Classic!
Pages: 162
Source: Bought for 49 cents at indie bookstore
Buy the Book: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

SUMMARY: Twice turned into a feature film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a delectable classic about a child’s dreams and the eccentric chocolate-maker who makes them come true. When Willy Wonka’s hallowed chocolate factory holds a worldwide contest awarding tours to the lucky, five children emerge as winners, including a glutton, a gum- chewing nitwit, a spoiled brat, and a TV addict. Only Charlie Bucket, the story’s earnest hero, stands to win the exotic riches of Wonka’s empire-if he avoids the pitfalls of his fellow contestants and stays true to his heart. Ingenious and entertaining, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a true modern classic. (Via Amazon)

Brian’s Review: I didn’t initially intend to review this. I didn’t initially intend to watch the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory again, and all the DVD’s bonus features. No, originally, I passed by the loaded, awesome books on film section at my local library and found a copy of Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, by the film’s director Mel Stuart, and Josh Young. Stuart passed away in August at the age of 83, and what a legacy he has left, with what I still today consider the best children’s film of all time (even though, really, it’s a movie as much for adults as it is for kids), By the end of perusing this incredibly detailed and fascinating account of the 1971 film, I felt like I had been transported not just to the movie’s set, but like I had traveled to the magical chocolate factory rooms themselves. The large hardcover book is filled with interesting anecdotes and gorgeous full-color pictures.

Here are some of the interesting tidbits I picked up in the book (most of which is also on the 30-minute documentary on the DVD):

  • The director Mel Stuart’s daughter came to him one night and told him she read and loved a new children’s book – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – and told him he should make a movie based on it. Boy, if every film adaptation was that easy!
  • No film studio funded the film. Quaker Oats did! They made the movie to promote a new chocolate bar.
  • Joel Gray, from Cabaret, was the initial choice to play Willy Wonka. He would have been great, but nobody could have been better than Gene Wilder!
  • Stuart knew Gene Wilder was the perfect choice for Willy Wonka, before the actor even opened his mouth at the audition!
  • Peter Ostrum, who plays Charlie, went on to become veterinarian. He never acted in another movie again.
  • Stuart originally didn’t want songs in the movie, but later, thankfully, changed his mind.
  • The script ended with Grandpa Joe yelling “Yippee!” Stuart did not want his movie to end on such a trivial note, so he halted production and waited for the uncredited screenwriter David Seltzer to come up with a better ending line. He did so right there, on the spot. And it’s a great one!
  • After filming ended, the negative of the whole movie was flown from Europe to the US. If the plane had crashed and not made its destination for whatever reason, the whole movie would’ve been destroyed!
  • The movie flopped in its initial release, only making 4 million in its entire run, but of course has gone to be one of the most cherished family films of all time.

Back when I was in high school and a total nerd (well, let’s face it, I still am), I made a list of my top ten films of all time. The list included (and still does) American Beauty, Mulholland Drive, Defending Your Life, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. And down the list, at number seven, was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It simply is one of the great movies ever, an enchanting story, a perfect cast, memorable songs, magical production design. When I closed the Making-Of book, I knew I had to watch the movie again (it had been a few years), and I was once again transported back to Wonka’s chocolate factory. I still love the movie now, at age 28, just as much as I did when I was a kid. And I can’t wait to show it to my kids some day.

I still had the chocolate factory on my mind yesterday, when I checked into my favorite bookstore in Reno – Grassroots Books — and found, astonishingly, a 1st edition hardback copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in the kids section, for 49 cents. You read that right. 49 cents. I snatched it up and headed home. I hadn’t read the book since probably the fourth or fifth grade. Having just read the Making-Of book, and watched the movie for the umpteenth time, I wanted to read the book again.

And let me tell you, while Roald Dahl has created some of the most wonderful books for children of all time – my favorites remain The Witches, Matilda, and The Twits – his masterpiece is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s just such a unique, timeless concept, told in the perfect voice, at just the right length, with just the right amount of perversity. I gobbled up the 162-page book in one sitting and fell right back in love with it. Roald Dahl was a childhood hero of mine, along with the great R.L. Stine, and now that I’m writing my own fiction (much of which is certainly perverse!), I have to give my thanks to the great Dahl for all that he inspires me, still to this day.

It was also fun to read the book, so soon after watching the movie, to catch all the differences between the two. I was surprised to see how faithful the movie is to the book, but there were still some noticeable changes. Here are elements of the book that were left out or altered the film:

  • Charlie has a dad! There’s a Mr. Bucket!
  • The golden tickets are found really fast, like just in a few days.
  • There’s mention of a man named Slugworth, but his scary appearance, and intent on finding the secret formula to Everlasting Gobstoppers, was a subplot created for the film.
  • There isn’t a 5th ticket hoax.
  • Each child with a golden ticket is allowed to bring two parents, not just one, so the other four all bring their moms and dads. Charlie still brings Uncle Joe.
  • Willy Wonka is described as a short man with a high-pitched voice.
  • The Oompa Loompas are described differently, and they sing much longer, more in depth songs after the four other kids’ exits from the story.
  • Veruca Salt meets her end not in a room of golden geese, but nut-making squirrels.
  • You learn what some of the other candy rooms are. I personally would check out the INVISIBLE CHOCOLATE BARS FOR EATING IN CLASS room.
  • We see the other four kids leave in safety in the second-to-last scene. All are alive and well, and all are given their promised lifetime supply of chocolate bars! So in a way, the film is more cruel to these characters than the book ever was.
  • Wonka picks up Charlie’s whole family, blowing their house’s roof clean off, and whisks them back up into the sky in his Wonka-vater! 

It was a treat to go back and peruse this fantastic, timeless story, through the Making-of-the-Movie book, the classic 1971 film, and the original, first edition novel by Roald Dahl. I never was a huge fan of his follow-up novel Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and I was even less a fan of the wonky, in every way, 2005 adaptation, Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. No, for me, it’s all about the originals: the original book, and the original book. These are what dreams are made of.

I’ve suddenly got a hankering for chocolate. Anyone have a Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight?

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4 comments

  1. Tammy Sparks

    One of my favorite movies of all time…I’m a lot older than you Brian, and when the movie was shown on TV for the first time (I can’t remember the date) I had my trusty tape recorder ready, held it up to the TV for the length of the movie, and recorded the whole thing. I played those songs over and over! Now my kids have seen it on DVD, and I embarrass them by singing along, since I still remember every word:) Great post!

    • Brian

      The songs are amazing. I was watching the movie the other night thinking, “Has anyone tried to make this a Broadway musical?” In the right hands it could be something extraordinary.

      • L. Palmer

        One of the local high schools did it as a live production a few years ago. It was very fun. I bet it would be amazing done professionally with the right cast and crew.
        How do you feel about Tim Burton’s version? I like both.

  2. Brian

    You know, the Tim Burton movie is a tough one for me. I only saw it once, opening weekend back in 2005, and I was so heavily turned off by even the thought of someone trying to do another Willy Wonka movie that I walked in prepared to hate it. It wasn’t as bad as I expected, but I still didn’t like it. I found Johnny Depp’s interpretation of the character way too weird, a mix between a robot and Michael Jackson. I hated the flashbacks, and the use of just one Oompa Loompa. The movie was colorful, sure, but all the computerized special effects took away any realism of the chocolate factory. I just think the 1971 original is borderline perfect, and so I like to pretend that there was no Tim Burton version. But I know it has its fans, and I’ve considered watching it a second time. It has been seven years, maybe I can watch it with a fresher eye today.

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