WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
Roald Dahls work has been filmed with variable success. (See below for other Roald Dahl-based films). Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was the first time that Dahls work had been brought to the screen apart from his classic macabre tale Lamb to the Slaughter, which had been earlier filmed as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-65). Dahl had also previously worked on the screen adaptations of two books by his good friend Ian Fleming the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967) and the childrens fantasy Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). However, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, based on Dahls childrens book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), was the first fully-fledged Dahl screen adaptation. The resulting film was not a success at the time it came out, with many not knowing how to take its wacky surrealism and alarmingly sinister undercurrents. It has since become a cult film.
A zany imagination that has gone into the film. Dahl and the design team have let their imaginations roam in terms of nonsense absurdities lickable wallpaper, a room built entirely in halves, hallways with a series of doors that travel down into tiny perspective, rivers and waterfalls of chocolate, flowers with petals that are edible cups of tea, giant nonsensical vehicles. The costume and set design people have a great deal of fun, managing to use every available colour of the spectrum, seemingly all at once. The only failing of imagination is the sometimes cheapness of budget the interior of the wonderland shows through as being just a dressed-up factory interior where the ceiling height windows and pillars are clearly evident. The musical numbers from Doctor Dolittle (1967)s Leslie Bricusse are light and innocuous and never drag proceedings down as they are often wont to do in these films.
What gives Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory an alarmingly sinister undertow is the character of Willy Wonka himself. I must confess to an intense dislike of Gene Wilder as an actor. Every performance he gives is irritatingly over-the-top. It is like Wilder has no other mode other than overwrought exaggeration and delivering dialogue in upper case. That said, Willy Wonka may actually be Wilders best performance, or at least one that is perfectly suited to his particular manner. Wonka could have been played as a perfectly innocuous character as a genial Santa Claus-character, for instance. However, the very casting of Gene Wilder adds an ambiguousness to it. He comes across as a clown who is not entirely in full charge of his faculties and displays a disturbingly nonchalant indifference as punishments are dished out. By failing to play the part as sinister, this conversely serves to make the menacing element seem even more so. Peter Ostrum, it should also be said, is perfectly cast as Charlie.
Throughout the 1990s, a Willy Wonka remake was toyed with, at one point purported to have starred shock rocker Marilyn Manson in the title role. This finally emerged under the storys original title as the disappointing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka.
Roald Dahls other genre works are: the short-lived anthology tv series Way Out (1961), which Dahl wrote for and hosted; the screenplay for the psycho-thriller The Night Digger/The Road Builder (1971); the anthology series Tales of the Unexpected (1979-81), which he also hosted and adapted his macabre short stories for. The BFG (1989), Nicolas Roegs The Witches (1990), Danny DeVitos Matilda (1996), Henry Selicks animated James and the Giant Peach (1996), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and The BFG (2016) are all adapted from Dahls childrens books.