Why Willy Wonka Mattered to All of Us

PrintE-mail Written by Whitney Scott Bain

From children who grew into adults and children of today, we are all heartbroken by the passing of Mr. Gene Wilder.

Portraying the memorable character Willy Wonka, he was a man we felt we knew as a friend. A playful magician of sorts, full of whimsy he offered sage advice and taught life’s lessons to those that lacked guidance. We identified with Charlie Bucket; the underdog surrounded by bullies and spoiled children such as Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop, Mike TeeVee, and Violet Beauregarde, each who were reflections of their parents. Charlie and his family were poor. Fatherless, he supplemented the family income as a paperboy while going to school. Except for the love of his elderly family and mother who toiled in a laundry - washing and cleaning other people’s clothes, he had no positive role models with art imitating life for many of us. But, it was Charlie’s faith in himself that led him to discover the final Golden Ticket. A faith we all have within us that we call upon at times.

Willy Wonka became Charley’s surrogate father along with Charlie’s Grandpa Joe each teaching them life’s values. Once Charlie has found the coveted Golden Ticket, he is then approached by the sinister appearing Mr. Slugworth with a temptation to sell out, but he remains true and honest to himself which pays off.

The scene with Charlie and his mother at the laundry is quite emotional, with the young and heartbroken boy stating that he is different because he wants the Golden Ticket more than anyone else. It shows him at his darkest point before the dawn, which we can relate to as we have all been in that situation before. Just be glad you’re you.

Fred Astaire was originally approached to play Willy Wonka but turned it down. Gene Wilder was immediately cast by director Mel Stuart. In a letter from Wilder to Stuart, he describes his changes to the design of Willy Wonka’s costume in depth. Part of this world, part of another. A costume that strangely fits him. Something mysterious; unidentified. Mr. Wilder’s changes became what we see on the screen. He was an actor born to play this role.

Little surprises are around the corner, but nothing dangerous. Kids in a candy land. What would you do? Adding to the wonderment of the film was Arthur Ibbetson’s Technicolor vision that popped on the screen along with the memorable musical score and song and dance numbers that Diana Sowle, Jack Albertson, the Oompa Loompas and, of course, Gene Wilder brilliantly performed.

Willy Wonka , eccentric as he is, was also a humanitarian. He protected those who couldn’t protect themselves as in taking care of the Oompa Loompas from being devoured by the Snozzwangers and Vermicious Knids in Oompa Loompaland and employing them in his chocolate factory where they would be safe.

With all these combined, it’s no wonder that Willy Wonka is a timeless, magical classic every generation holds close to them in their hearts.

Mr. Wilder, you will be sorely missed. May you find your Golden Ticket waiting for you at the end of your journey. You gave us the gift of pure imagination that we will never lose. You will always be our hero.

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