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The Wonka You Didn’t Know

The Wonka You Didn’t Know

We all know that for more than 40 years the story of a poor boy and an eccentric chocolate maker, Willy Wonka, has been everyone’s pro-confectionary, non-pollutionary, anti-institutionary brand of fun. In fact, Saturday Night Live, Marilyn Manson and The Simpsons have all spoofed the chocolate river, the scary boat ride and those adorable Oompa Loompas at one time or another. More than 30 years after the original movie film adaptation, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, was released, director Tim Burton’s remake of Roald Dahl’s childhood classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will hit the big screen. So maybe it’s time to take another look at the story behind the story of one of the most famous pop icons ever. Here are a few things you might not know about the candy man with the purple coat and top hat.

1. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was considered a psychedelic drug trip.

What about those brightly colored mushrooms by the chocolate river? When Willy Wonka was first released in the ’70s, some people thought they actually represented the drugs of the same name and that the movie was nothing more than one big chemically enhanced “trip.” Film director Mel Stuart denies this view of the movie in his book Pure Imagination, saying, “But it wasn’t a psychedelic drug trip, or at least it wasn’t my intention for people to think it was.” And Paris Themmen (aka Mike Teevee) said in a recent interview, “About the drug induced theory of Wonka: It’s the most common theory I hear. I have been told that it is a popular movie to play at raves. People go to raves and watch this movie while under the influence of whatever.”

2. S-w-w-e-e-t.

The true beginning of the idea for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory started when Dahl and his fellow classmates at an English boarding school were given the dream job of “chocolate tasters.” The Cadbury Company would send all kinds of chocolate bars, including some new creations, to the school and ask the boys to rate their favorite chocolate bars on a scale from 1 to 10. In return for “testing” the new chocolate products, the boys continued to receive free boxes of chocolate at the school from time to time.

Dahl never forgot this one-of-a-kind opportunity and said in his memoir, “I have no doubt at all that 35 years later, when I was looking for a plot for my second book for children, I remembered those little cardboard boxes and the newly invented chocolates inside of them, and I began to write a book called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

3. Does the ACLU know about this?

Those lovable “vertically challenged” Oompa Loompas have been at the heart of a politically correct controversy. In the first edition of the novel, Dahl described the Oompa Loompas as black-skinned pygmies. They were dressed in jungle attire of leaves and whooped warlike chants. Because the book was released during the turbulent civil rights movement in the 1960s, some critics considered this portrayal of the Oompa Loompas as symbolic of slavery—bringing Africans to Western civilization to be exploited in a factory for a white man’s profit. Dahl always insisted he meant no racial prejudice by his depiction of the Oompa Loompas and agreed to change the depiction of these creatures in later editions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

4. Film Feud

The original film adaptation, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, was a box office bomb (grossing only $3 million and making it only the 53rd highest grossing movie release that year). It’s also true that neither Dahl nor Tim Burton are fans of the original film version. Burton has said, “Well, I don’t want to crush people’s childhood dreams, but the original film [Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory] is sappy. It’s sappy when it shouldn’t be sappy, and it’s weird. Let’s just say it’s not one of my personal favorites.

On the other hand, Mel Stuart, director of Willy Wonka, said recently, “I want this movie [Charlie] to be as different from my movie as possible. Let them go crazy and do whatever they want. I’m not worried. My movie will still speak for itself.”

[The above is an adaptation from a new book WonkaMania written by Kris Rasmussen. Go to for more chocolate revelry.]

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