|Charlie and the Chocolate Factory character|
|First appearance||Charlie and the Chocolate Factory|
|Created by||Roald Dahl|
|Portrayed by||Gene Wilder (1971)
Johnny Depp (2005)
|Voiced by||Maurice LaMarche (commercials)
James Arnold Taylor (video game)
Willy Wonka is a fictional character in Roald Dahl's 1964 children's novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, its sequel Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and the film adaptations of these books that followed. The book and the film adaptations both vividly depict an odd Wonka, a feature arising from his creative and eccentric genius. He bewilders the other characters with his antics, but Charlie enjoys Wonka's behavior. In the 2005 film adaptation, Willy Wonka's behavior is viewed more as a (sympathetic) character flaw. Wonka's reasons for giving away his fabulous factory is never revealed in the books, but in the 1971 film adaptation, Wonka tells Charlie he can't live forever, so he wanted to find a sweet child he could trust his candy making secrets to.
1971 film adaptation
Candy maker Willy Wonka has hidden five Golden Tickets amongst his famous "Wonka Bars." The finders of these special tickets will be given a full tour of his tightly guarded candy factory as well as a lifetime supply of chocolate. The contest sets off a global craze with everyone desperately seeking out the tickets. They are eventually found by five different children from around the world (Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teavee, and Charlie Bucket).
Charlie enters the chocolate factory too and among many things sees Oompa-Loompas, Willy Wonka's short orange workers whom he saved from the wild beasts of Loompaland.
Eventually, Charlie Bucket is the only remaining child. Wonka informs him that the tour is over, politely dismisses him and Grandpa Joe, and disappears into his office without mentioning the promised prize of a lifetime supply of chocolate. Grandpa Joe and Charlie enter the office, where Wonka tells them that Charlie does not get the prize because he broke the rules. When questioned on the existence of the said rules, Wonka irritably reveals the forfeiture clause of the contract Charlie signed. Charlie's part in the theft of Fizzy Lifting drinks earlier in the story means that he violated the contract, and therefore he receives nothing. Now seemingly enraged, Wonka again dismisses them with a furious "Good day!".
When Charlie subsequently returns a gobstopper to Wonka that Grandpa Joe thought could be used as revenge, Wonka joyfully tells Charlie that he "won" and begs his guests' forgiveness. He reveals that the spy "Slugworth" is actually an employee named Wilkinson, whose offer to buy the gobstopper was a morality test for the Golden Ticket winners, and Charlie was the only one who passed. Wonka leads Charlie and Grandpa Joe to the "Wonkavator", a multi-directional glass elevator, and fly out of the factory in it. As they soar over the village, Wonka tells Charlie that his actual prize is not just the chocolate but the factory itself, as the Golden Ticket search was created to help Wonka search for an honest and worthy child to be his heir. Charlie and his family will reside in the factory and take over its operation when Wonka retires.
2005 film adaptation
Willy Wonka, the owner of a famous chocolate factory, has long closed access to his factory due to problems concerning industrial espionage that ultimately led him to fire all his employees, among them Charlie's Grandpa Joe. One day, Wonka informs the world of a contest, in which five Golden Tickets have been placed in five random Wonka Bars worldwide, and the winners will be given a full tour of the factory as well as a lifetime supply of chocolate, while one ticket holder will be given a special prize at the end of the tour. After all five of the tickets are found, Wonka greets Charlie and the other ticket holders outside the factory and leads the group into the facility. During the tour, Wonka tempts each of the bad children to disobey his orders with something related to their individual character flaws. Wonka then invites Charlie to come live and work in the factory with him, and reveals that the purpose of the Golden Tickets and the tour was to make the "least rotten" child the heir of the factory itself, so he can have someone carry on his legacy when he dies. The only condition, however, is that Charlie must leave his family behind, because Wonka believes family is a hindrance to a chocolatier's creative freedom, a philosophy Wonka developed due to his dentist father, Dr. Wilbur Wonka, denying his son candy because of the potential risk to his teeth. After secretly sampling some candy, Wonka was instantly hooked and ran away to follow his dreams. After being refused Charlie's offer, Wonka falls into a state of emotional depression and returns to Charlie to seek advice. Wonka soon reunites with his estranged father and allows Charlie's family to live in the factory, forever.
2013 musical adaptation
Tony Award-winner Douglas Hodge portrays the character in a new musical adaptation, directed by Sam Mendes and with music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London, which opened in June 2013.
Concept and creation
2005 film adaptation
Early on in the production of the 2005 film, Nicolas Cage was under discussions for portraying Willy Wonka, but lost interest. Warner Bros. president Alan F. Horn wanted Tom Shadyac to direct Jim Carrey as Willy Wonka, believing the duo could make Charlie and the Chocolate Factory relevant to mainstream audiences, but Roald Dahl's widow Liccy Dahl opposed this. After Tim Burton was hired as director in May 2003, Burton immediately thought of Johnny Depp for the role of Willy Wonka, who joined the following August for his fourth collaboration with the director.
Burton and screenwriter John August worked together in creating Wilbur Wonka, Willy's domineering dentist father. "You want a little bit of the flavor of why Wonka is the way he is," Burton reasoned. "Otherwise, what is he? He's just a weird guy." Warner Bros. and Burton held differences over the characterization of Willy Wonka. The studio wanted to make Willy Wonka the idyllic father figure Charlie Bucket had longed for his entire life. Burton believed that Wonka would not be a good father, finding the character similar to a recluse. "In some ways," Burton protested, "he's more screwed up than the kids." Prior to Burton's involvement, Warner Bros. considered or discussed Willy Wonka with Nicolas Cage, Jim Carrey, Michael Keaton, Brad Pitt, Will Smith and Adam Sandler. Johnny Depp was the only actor Burton considered for the role, who signed on without reading the script under the intention on going with a completely different approach than what Gene Wilder did in the 1971 film adaptation. "Regardless of what one thinks of that film," Depp explained, "Gene Wilder's persona, his character, stands out." Depp stated on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that he based the character on what he believed an "incredibly stoned" George W. Bush would act like.
Comparisons were drawn between Willy Wonka and musician Michael Jackson. Burton joked, "Here's the deal. There's a big difference: Michael Jackson (d. 2009) likes children, Willy Wonka can't stand them. To me that's a huge difference." Depp explained that the similarities with Jackson never occurred to him. "I say if there was anyone you'd want to compare Wonka to it would be a Howard Hughes, almost. Reclusive, germaphobe, controlling." Burton agreed with the Hughes similarities, and additionally supplied Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane as inspiration. "Somebody who was brilliant but then was traumatized and then retreats into their own world." Depp wanted to sport prosthetic makeup for the part and have a long, elongated nose, but Burton believed it would be too outrageous.
Wilder's performance as Willy Wonka was well received and remains one of his best-known roles. Time Out Film Guide called it "Great fun, with Wilder for once giving an impeccably controlled performance as the factory's bizarre candy owner." Critic Jeffrey M. Anderson, of Combustible Celluloid, wrote, "[W]hen the movie does actually reach the factory, and Gene Wilder takes the stage, the movie is saved. Wilder was in the middle of an incredible run of subtle comic performances... and he was at the height of his powers here." Regarding Wilder's effect, Anderson wrote "If you're a kid, Wonka seems magical, but watching it now, he has a frightening combination of warmth, psychosis, and sadism." Kevin Carr, of 7M pictures wrote "This is Gene Wilder's legacy. He was perfect for the role, and it was his mixture of childlike wonder and bitter, deserved vengeance that made the character so compelling.", while critic Widgett Walls simply called it "Probably Gene Wilder's finest, most manic hour."  Wilder received a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for his role as Willy Wonka, but lost to Chaim Topol as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.
Critical response to Johnny Depp's performance as Willy Wonka was more mixed. Critic Andrew Sarris, of The New York Observer, who did not enjoy the film's style in general, wrote "I wonder if even children will respond to the peculiarly humorless and charmless stylistic eccentricities of Mr. Burton and his star, Johnny Depp." However, Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote that "Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka may be a stone freak, but he is also one of Burton's classic crackpot conjurers, like Beetlejuice or Ed Wood." Mick LaSalle from the San Francisco Chronicle found that "all the laughs [in the film] come from Depp, who gives Willy the mannerisms of a classic Hollywood diva". Roger Ebert wrote "Depp, an actor of considerable gifts, has never been afraid to take a chance, but this time he takes the wrong one. His Willy Wonka is an enigma in an otherwise mostly delightful movie from Tim Burton," while Peter Travers wrote in Rolling Stone magazine that "Depp's deliciously demented take on Willy Wonka demands to be seen. Depp goes deeper to find the bruises on Wonka's secret heart than what Gene Wilder did." Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post also criticized Depp's acting; "The cumulative effect isn't pretty. Nor is it kooky, funny, eccentric or even mildly interesting. Indeed, throughout his fey, simpering performance, Depp seems to be straining so hard for weirdness that the entire enterprise begins to feel like those excruciating occasions when your parents tried to be hip." Joe Lozito of Big Picture Big Sound questioned the intention as well, writing "Depp's Wonka exudes none of the gravity required for the role. It's as though he didn't take the role seriously. Rather than an intimidating candyman teaching brats a lesson, this Wonka is simply a freak." Depp received a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for his role as Willy Wonka, but lost to Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line.
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