Thursday, March 31, 2016
Pure imagination; not enough chocolate
My older son and I had an experience last month that was profound for both of us: We visited a chocolate factory down on Phillip Island, about two hours from Melbourne on coastal Victoria.
You would expect that something like this would interest a five-year-old. Its intoxicating effects on a 42-year-old might not be so readily apparent.
But the Pannys chocolate factory did everything just right. It whetted your palette with a first few "educational" rooms about how chocolate is made, much of it using materials that seemed a good 40 years old, giving off the impression it might remain well-meaning but corny throughout. But just as you were lulled into a sense that this was nice but you weren't quite sure it was worth the entry fee, the place lays on you a delirious succession of ever greater wonders, the mere enumeration of which would not do them justice. Let's just say that somewhere between the machine that uses a robotic penguin to dispense you as many chocolate discs as you could possibly want and the machine that mixes ingredients for you to make your own custom chocolate bars, I lost track of who was more giddy, him or me. Somewhere on the order of 250 photos later, we emerged, exhausted from sheer exhilaration.
That experience gave me the confidence to introduce to him a movie whose other key descriptors -- a live-action movie made in 1971 -- might ordinarily take it out of his wheelhouse. On the first Tuesday of school holidays, during my younger son's nap, I had little more to do than read the title Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and he was putty in my hands. In fact, he was so primed and ready for the experience that I didn't feel I could deny it him, even once we realized that the BluRay borrowed from the library was scratched to a point beyond which the player could even identify it. This was now something that was happening, so I paid $2.99 to rent it from iTunes just to ensure he was not disappointed.
I did worry that his interest might wane during the 30 minutes or so it would actually take to get to the factory, but this wasn't the case at all. In fact, he showed a genuine concern about the decreasing quantity of Willy Wonka's five golden tickets, even at the same time that he demonstrated his shrewdness by predicting that Charlie Bucket, our hero, would surely end up with one of them. And therefore he was properly fooled when the fifth golden ticket was apparently found by a man in South America, a claim of course later proven to be fraudulent. He seemed visibly relieved when his preconceptions about what would happen had been restored. So even though he guessed what would happen, he was fully invested.
It was the actual arrival at the chocolate factory that started to sour him on the movie.
He was again tickled by the false limp Gene Wilder's Wonka perpetrates after first appearing on screen, revealing himself as a bit of a trickster by ultimately finishing his entrance with a somersault that belied his apparent affliction. My son gave me a look that said he was going to enjoy this movie.
But things started to go bad after the first scene with the chocolate river. My son dug all the edible scenery and the idea of consuming an unlimited supply of chocolate, kind of like we had done (on a smaller scale) at the Phillip Island chocolate factory. But this setting was the last to leave him tickled, and only part of that was concern over what might have happened to Augustus Gloop.
Simply put, this movie kind of stops becoming about chocolate after that.
You get your first preview of the weird turn it's taking with the surreal boat ride and all the words that rhyme with "going" and "rowing." That scene is pretty far out there, and I think it may have been my son's first introduction to something purely psychedelic in a movie. He wasn't scared of that scene, per se, but it was definitely something that didn't compute for him. Either on its own or in relation to the rest of the movie.
And in truth, I get that. After young Herr Gloop disappears in the chocolate river, a very chocolate factory type thing to happen, the disappearances stop being about that. Violet Beauregard blows up into a blueberry, which is food, but not chocolate. Veruca Salt vanishes down a garbage chute in her pursuit of a goose that lays a golden egg. And Mike TV turns into a pocket-sized version of himself. By this point, the idea that we're even still in a place where consumable items are produced has been lost. (And I wondered why Charlie's own naughty behavior doesn't lead to his own demise. Is drinking that fizzy drink that makes you float really any less of a transgression than those committed by the others?)
By the time the movie ended, when I asked him if he'd liked it, he said, "Not really," but felt he needed to qualify that. It was a sophisticated "not really," a genuine case of being troubled by the direction a story took.
And I got that. I was on the same troubled trajectory.
Officially, this is my second time seeing Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Unofficially, it's been one of a dozen or so movies on my list that I'm sure I've seen, which is not quite the same as knowing I've seen them. I know I've seen parts of it, and assume I've seen the whole thing, but the only things I can be sure of are that I've read the book and seen the awful Tim Burton remake. This could have been my own first viewing of Mel Stuart's movie, which also left me impossibly delighted for its first half and somewhat troubled by the second. Fortunately, as an adult, I can recognize how the delight outweighs the troublesomeness, leaving me unambiguously positive on the movie -- especially when compared to a piece of miserable drivel like Burton's remake.
Which I will not be showing to my son, whether it has more actual chocolate or no.