Yesterday being your typical rainy sunday (we get about 52 of ’em a year hereabouts), I decided to make the most of it and slouch in front of the telly with a couple of old friends – in this case a DVD of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (the 1971 original) and a bottle of brandy.
As with most of Roald Dahl’s stories, this is a tale with clear messages on morality, parenting etc – if your kid is a glutton, spoiled little shit, tv addict or just plain nasty (chewing gum was the least of Violet’s problems, IMHO), they’ll get their just desserts. If they’re a good honest kid like Charlie, however, they’ll be sweet as a nut. Simple, right?
Watch the movie again. The biggest villain in the whole flick is Grampa Joe, and he just cruises on without a care in the world!
Consider this… By his own admission Grampa Joe has been in bed for the past 20 years, whining about the cold floor and presumably baking some inspirational cabbage farts. Presumably Charlie’s Dad was on the scene for some of that time (he’s still around in the book and in Tim Burton’s movie, but no mention in the Mel Stuart flick), but from the haggard look of her I’d say pool old Mrs Bucket has been making his dinner, slopping his bedpan etc all by herself for quite some time. A man in that position would seem to be at death’s door, right? Nope – all it took to get him out of bed was a ticket to the bloody chocolate factory! One look at that golden ticket and he was not only vertical, but singing and dancing like a lunatic. I didn’t buy the initial swaying and staggering for a second, by the way, and I doubt Mrs Bucket did either. If I was her I would’ve waited till he went to sleep, smothered him with a pillow and gone to the chocolate factory with Charlie myself. Then again, my parents had better hope to hell they never end up being bed-ridden old codgers ‘cos I wouldn’t let them move in with me in the first place. But I digress…
So somehow the whole family buys Grampa Joe’s ‘miraculous recovery’, and off he goes to Wonka’s with Charlie. Actually you never see the family after that scene, so it’s entirely possible Grampa Joe bumped them all off in their sleep to stop word getting out (20 years in the sack would get you a pretty tidy invalid’s pension. Assuming he could keep collecting his and Josephine’s, plus George and Georgina’s, he’d be back to well over a single pipe a day I reckon). Then again, the whole plan would rely on his knocking off Mrs Bucket first, and if I was her I’d be sleeping with one eye open, know what I mean? Look at his face, folks – the man is creepy!
Anyhoo, off they go to Wonka’s. Charlie has signed what is obviously a pretty rigid contract, and all he has to do to get a lifetime supply of chocolate is not fuck anything up. It’s not like he has to win a chololate eating race (that would have gone to Augustus) or toss an Oompaloompa the farthest (Veruca, thanks to the ‘powerful build’ she inherited from her dad) – all he has to do is keep his hands in his pockets and his mouth shut. After the examples set by Augustus and Violet he’s actually doing pretty well, till what happens? Grampa Joe says ‘Let’s try some of this fizzy lifting drink Charlie. There’s no one around. We won’t get caught.’ But they do get caught, and if Charlie hadn’t had the nouse to give his Everlasting Gobstopper back to Wonka he would have been back in the shed eating cabbage water for the rest of his life. Friends like Grampa Joe are the reason the burns wards are always so chocka at Guy Fawkes time… ‘If you light 20 at once it’ll look really sweet etc…’
So what I’m wondering is this – assuming Dahl’s failure to punish the über villain Grampa Joe was intentional, what precisely is the moral of the story? Reponses via the usual channels please.
Tomorrow’s class: why ‘The Cat in the Hat’ is actually a cautionary tale about a child molester.