Virgin Viewing: ‘The Great Muppet Caper’ and ‘Willy Wonka’

The Fourth of July is all about barbecues, the beach, and fireworks. But since I burn easily and am a picky eater, my favorite way to spend the holiday weekend is burrowed inside with my air-conditioner and some DVDs. And it seemed like a perfect time for two iconic kids’ movies that I somehow made it this far without seeing.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a big favorite book of mine as a kid, so I’m not sure why I never saw the movie. The title of the film was changed to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory because the film was intended as an ad for a candy company. If you watch the credits, you’ll see that the copyright is owned by Quaker Oats, which was working on a new line of candy bars and searching for the right vehicle to promote them. [They later sold the company to Nestle, and they manufacture several candies inspired by the movie, including my personal favorite Everlasting Gobstoppers.] Roald Dahl, who wrote Charlie, distanced himself from the movie because he didn’t like the way that the movie focused too much on Willy and not enough on Charlie. While the movie was a lot of fun – Gene Wilder was awesome, the crazy candy factory machines and gizmos were zany, and my girl Veruca Salt managed to rock some killer styles while being a heinous beast – it lacked some of the original magic of the book. Charlie was reduced to being the perfect cliche of a noble child, without as much of his background. I did appreciate the quick pace, as each of the four other kids was eliminated in speedy fashion. As a kid, I remember the Charlie story being about the magic and promise of childhood. But as an adult, the movie was just a giant advertisement about how not to raise kids.

There was also one problem that made me outrageously biased during the viewing of this movie. About two years ago, at a birthday party, I met a person who, when I made the mistake of asking “So what do you do?” went on a fifteen-minute tirade listing every single job he or she had ever had, with a brief mention of “child actor.” The person, after some prodding, admitted that they had been one of the children in Willy Wonka, and was really annoyed that I’d never seen the movie. This person had just made me sit through a reading of his or her resume and concluded with “But really … I tell stories.” And every time this person’s face appeared on screen in Willy Wonka, that boring and interminable conversation started playing on repeat in my head, thus detracting from my enjoyment of the movie. But we bring our own biases, and I was aware of mine. Otherwise, the movie kicked ass. So, take that, Mr. or Ms. “I tell stories.”

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