|First appearance||Charlie and the Chocolate Factory|
|Created by||Roald Dahl|
|Portrayed by||Gene Wilder (1971)
Johnny Depp (2005)
Blair Dunlop (young)
|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 phoenix-like man arising from his creative and strange genius. He bewilders the other characters with his antics, but Charlie enjoys Wonka's behaviour. In the 2005 film adaptation, Willy Wonka's behaviour is viewed more as a sympathetic character flaw.
Wonka's reasons for giving away his factory in the books are revealed to be because he has no living relatives and is getting too old to keep running it. In the 1971 film adaptation, Wonka gives it to Charlie because he couldn't trust it with an adult who would likely change and ruin the wonder of his life's work so they could do it "their way", not his. Wonka tells Charlie he "can't go on forever", so he wanted to find an honest child to whom he could entrust his candy making secrets, and properly take care of his beloved factory working friends, the Oompa-Loompas, whom he rescued from a violently dangerous and terrible country called "Loompaland," where he thought they would surely go extinct. In the 2005 film adaption, Wonka tells Charlie that one day while getting his hair cut, he found grey hair and realized he, having no family, needed to find an heir. This is later revealed to be somewhat of a lie, as Charlie later discovers Willy has an estranged father with whom he has bad blood, which causes him great mental anguish and flashbacks that happen increasingly by the day. He decides to help the disturbed Willy finally confront, and ultimately, reunite with his estranged father, Dr. Wilbur Wonka, DDS, whose overbearing attempts at protecting his son's teeth, going so far as to throw into the fireplace any candies he brings home, drove Willy to run away. But, missing his train, he comes home to find the entire house is gone, seeming to have been perfectly removed from the complex it was a section of. Charlie tracks down the dentist's address, and upon this joyous, though at first awkward, reunion with his father, Willy immediately and happily allows Charlie's family to move into the factory with the pair, going so far as to have their house placed in his famous chocolate room, having overcome his fear of parents. He used to not even be able to say the word "parents" without slightly panicking, stuttering and gagging upon even attempting to utter the first syllable, causing the parents on the tour that day to have to say it for him, or to abandon the word completely, mid-sentence.
1964 book by Roald Dahl
Mr. Willy Wonka has hidden five Golden Tickets inside his famous "Wonka Bars". The finders of these are Augustus Gloop, a greedy boy; Veruca Salt, a girl who is spoiled by her parents; Violet Beauregarde, a girl who chews gum all day long; Mike Teavee, a boy who does nothing but watch television all day; and Charlie Bucket, a boy living in poverty. Mr. Wonka shows them around the factory.
But "unfortunately", Augustus falls into a chocolate river and gets sucked up by a pipe, Veruca is thrown down the rubbish chute, Violet chews herself into a blueberry and Mike teleports himself to a few inches tall. Mr. Wonka declares that Charlie is the winner and he is the heir of Mr. Wonka.
1972 book by Roald Dahl
Mr. Wonka goes aboard the Great Glass Elevator with Charlie and his family and links up with the Space Hotel U.S.A. The Space Hotel tracks the Elevator down back to Mr. Wonka's Factory. Mr. Wonka goes with Charlie and his family to the White House in the United States.
1971 film adaptation
Willy Wonka (portrayed by Gene Wilder) 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. During the tour, Wonka tempts each of the bad children to disobey his orders with something related to their individual character flaws. Charlie and Grandpa Joe also succumb to temptation and purposefully steal "Fizzy Lifting Drinks", but unknowingly break the rules, violate the signed contract, forfeit the grand prize and to be yelled at by Mr. Wonka. Mr. Wonka's experimental line of soda products that allows the drinker to fly, only to come close to death (the drinks are too strong, and therefore, not ready).
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. They both go into Wonka's office to confront him, where Grandpa Joe asks about the prize, but Wonka tells him Charlie does not get it, because he broke the rules when Grandpa Joe asks him if they've seen any rules, and angrily states the forfeiture clause of the contract signed by Charlie and the other ticket holders. Charlie's part in the theft of Fizzy Lifting Drinks which he and Grandpa Joe stole earlier means that he violated the contract and therefore, he receives nothing. Wonka dismisses them with a furious "Good Day Sir!". Grandpa Joe angrily berates him for destroying the hopes of his grandson, but is shouted down and stopped by Wonka with an even more furious "I SAID GOOD DAY!". Grandpa Joe vows to get revenge on Wonka by selling the Everlasting Gobstopper to Slugworth (Wonka's rival), but Charlie then returns the gobstopper to Wonka's desk. Wonka joyfully tells him he's passed his test, reinstates his grand prize, apologizes for what he did, and reveals that "Slugworth," who had been spying on the children, was actually an employee of his named "Wilkinson". The trio enter the great glass elevator and go high to the sky where Wonka reveals that Charlie, as well as Grandpa Joe and his whole family will move into the factory, and Charlie will take over its business when Wonka retires, reminding Charlie not to forget what happened to the man who got everything he ever wanted: "He lived happily ever after."
2005 film adaptation
Willy Wonka (portrayed by Johnny Depp), 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 gets too old.
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 he developed due to his dentist father, Dr. Wilbur Wonka, denying his son any candy because of the potential risk to his teeth and forcing him to wear a large and hideously clunky set of braces. 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
In 2013, an adaption of the novel was produced in Theatre Royal Drury Lane starting on 25 June 2013. Willy Wonka in this production was originated by Douglas Hodge. In the play, Wonka decides to open his factory to five children whom can find one of five golden tickets hidden in the wrappers in Wonka Bars. The play begins with Charlie in a large trash pile looking for items that are "almost nearly perfect".
He later goes home and we see the golden ticket winners on an oversized television with actors inside it. Once all the tickets have been won, Willy Wonka invites the children into his factory, where he then tempts each of them with a weakness. Finally, only Charlie is left. Willy Wonka and Charlie board Wonka's "Great Glass Elevator" which takes off over the audience.
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."
Johnny Depp was the only actor Burton considered for the role. He signed on without reading the script, under the intention of 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 Michael Jackson, due to Wonka's more childish demeanour. Burton joked, "Here's the deal. There's a big difference: Michael Jackson likes children, Willy Wonka can't stand them. To me that's a huge difference in the whole persona thing." 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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