Sunday, May 13, 2007

Willy Wonka Hypocrisy

So I had the opportunity to rewatch this movie recently. The original Willy Wonka. A fine, fine film in my opinion. Has it aged well? Eh, mostly. It does feel out of place that Charlie bumps into an honest to God tinker outside the factory gates. I mean, a tinker? Even in 1971 I'm not sure how many tinkers there were wandering the streets.

Also there's the gum thing. I feel like I grew up in an era that was still recovering from some kind of childhood gum plague. Teachers in school would tell us with the harshest insistence: "Absolutely no gum chewing in my classroom! Do you hear me!" And we're all looking at each other thinking "Gum? Who chews gum? What gum?" So presumably there was a time when children chewing excessive amounts of gum was a huge problem, I just had the good fortune to be born afterwards. No, our problem were those damn curling bracelets that looked like little rulers but they snapped onto your wrist. What were those things? Where have they gone?

But anyways, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory takes a bold stance against gum chewing, and it does feel a little out of date. But dated or not, it is still a great movie.

Well, except for a slightly bigger problem. See, the film has always seemed a little hypocritical to me. How? Well, the Roald Dahl book is a morality tale. Dahl shows us that kids with bad habits get what's coming to them. Take Augustus Gloop for instance:

He's a glutton. He's fat. He eats too much chocolate. He falls in the chocolate river and gets sucked up the pipe. Lesson: don't be such a pig. But now here's the funny thing. Do you know who made the film? Not Paramount or Disney. The film was made by the Quaker Oats Company, and it was made first and foremost as a marketing tool to sell these candy bars:

The actual Wonka candy bar was a complete failure (supposedly it was like a Nestle Crunch bar with graham instead of crackle), but the movie was a big hit. Now if you want to make a film adaptation of a Roald Dahl morality tale about the dangers of eating too much chocolate, do you really think it's wise to use the film as a vehicle to sell chocolate? Don't you think that just slightly undermines the message?

And that's without even mentioning that the book contains another character, Mike Teavee, who's addicted to television:

Why would you make a film adaptation out of a story whose moral is that television is bad for children? Isn't there a bit of a problem there? It would be like, I don't know, making a Cliffs Notes edition of a book about the dangers of using Cliffs Notes. Or taking a book about the sad lives of circus animals, and doing a stage adaptation of it with actual circus animals. It's just not a good idea. Did the filmmakers mind these two casual betrayals of the moral of the story?

So there's always been that hypocrisy with the Willy Wonka film. The film tries to draw moral lessons, and the filmmakers undercut the lessons. But then, with the new, inferior Tim Burton remake, we get a fresh dose of hypocrisy.

See, they've reinvented Mike Teavee. Now he's a video game addict. He's not just vain like the original Mike, now he's violent:

What a smart idea. How bold of Tim Burton to update Mike for the 21 century. It's not just television that rots the brain, it's these damned video games. Good for you Tim Burton! Kids today need to be told what's bad for them. What bold commentary. What fresh insight. What courageous... wait a minute! Hold on! What's this?

Why, it's a video game of Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. "Hey kids, crack is bad for you. Oh and by the way, here, have some crack." Tim Burton, you're a hack. You're nothing. And yeah, the movie sucked. What the hell was up with Johnny Depp?

Do you see now why I hate marketing? Look how they've exploited Roald Dahl and undermined his story. Look how they've sold him out. And for what? To make money? Is that all? Man does this get me cheesed.


Victor said...

I don't care how old this is but the updated Mike TV was smart and savvy.
Aggresive perhaps but what kid isn't at that age?

Anonymous said...

Filmmakers have for along time cast television in a negative light, especially in the 50's, 60's, and 70's. This was mainly because tv was a direct competitor for viewers. For the original Willy Wonka film, I don't see a movie/tv conflict at all. In 1971, when the film was released, movie theaters were still competing for viewers, and films were, at that time, not shown too often on tv. Today of course tv is just another distribution medium for "films" and is definitely no longer a competitor, having long since won that battle.

Anonymous said...

you guys are all gronks get a life!