Film

America Needs Willy Wonka Now More Than Ever

Danny Furey
Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka embodies all the qualities America seeks in a leader these days.


Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Director: Mel Stuart
Cast: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum
Year: 1971
The following is a commentary on the titular character of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), not Roald Dahl’s character (which differs from Gene Wilder’s cinematic portrayal), and certainly not Johnny Depp’s interpretation of the character, which is just the worst. But that’s a topic for another day....

“Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three.”

Imagine having the chance to weed out all the nastiness of the world in order to bolster one's true nobility and “pure imagination”. Sounds nice, huh? Imagine transporting Willy Wonka -- brilliantly portrayed by the late, great Gene Wilder -- from a world free of health codes, labor laws, or stigmas surrounding offering children free candy to the world of American politics in 2017.

In these times, America needs the Candy Commander in Chief… the Sultan of Sugar… the Diabolical Don of Diabetes… the Mad Man in Magenta himself, Mr. Willy Wonka now more than ever.

On the surface, we have an individual who has dedicated his life to the mass production of joy and delight. Unnatural, teeth-decaying joy and delight… But joy and delight nonetheless. Look a bit closer, however, and you’ll find a deeply compassionate and profoundly inspiring individual.

What are some of Wonka’s qualifications for throwing his signature stovepipe hat into the political ring, you ask? Well, in a nutshell, Wonka is an accomplished leader of a respected mega-corporation who believes in reaching out to help those who are of pure heart and open mind. His bizarre, often wry exterior masks a caring, lovable man within who is driven by a search for good in the world.Let’s look at some specific campaign platforms, shall we?

“All I ask is a tall ship and a star to sail her by. All aboard, everybody!”

Wonka is sympathetic to the plight of the refugee. He has spent his life sheltering an entire race of humans(?) whose homeland had been ravaged by Wangdoodles and Vermicious Knids, in exchange for their help in preserving his livelihood. He sees the goodness in helping those in need, while no less assured of the value of an honest day’s work.

Wonka can get through to Millennials. How? 1. Luring them with candy. 2. Shamelessly adhering to an “earn it or lose it” mentality -- a valuable experience for the participation trophy generation. A future of pure imagination and endless creation awaits those who know a generous and dignified life. And as for the bad eggs… “Nil desperandum, my dear lady. Across the desert lies the promised land.”

Wonka is worldly. Fluent in French, German, Latin, Oompa-Loompan, and an endless supply of obscure proverbs, Wonka’s knowledge of language and prose is a sure sign of a man of great culture and education.

Wonka is a purveyor of hope, but rewards only those who don’t abuse it. Through his golden ticket sweepstakes, Willy Wonka sells branded and packaged “hope” to the masses -- leading the world to believe that blind luck can turn their lives around. Ultimately, however, only the wisest realize the prize for what it is; a test of each winner’s worth as a human being.

The lone Statesman among Wonka’s guests, Charlie Bucket, only wants to win the factory tour to experience a brighter world, if only for a day. Charlie wants the chocolate prize to feed the community of bedridden elders that inexplicably share his home. Accordingly, Wonka chooses Charlie to succeed him. While it’s tough to say whether choosing your heir via morality tests would actually be good for the preservation of capitalism or not, it sure sounds good on paper!

Wonka is honest. “If the good lord had intended for us to walk, he wouldn’t have invented roller skates, now would he?”

Wonka is judicious -- he's firm, but fair. Wonka wastes no time in depriving unsavory souls of the pure joy of his world. Goodbye to the gluttonous. Sayonara to the spoiled. So long to the lazy. As able onlookers cry out for Wonka’s help, he mocks them with conviction in being keeper to no one who would so willingly defile his beautiful, carefully constructed world. “Help... Police... Murder...”

But what is Willy Wonka’s defining characteristic? What drives him? What is maybe the one thing that America has needed these past two years, and possibly now more than ever?

Optimism.

For all his tricks, critiques, and disguises, Wonka’s belief in mankind’s power to make the world a beautiful place is almost unparalleled.

“If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. Anything you want to -- do it. Want to change the world? There’s nothing to it. …Living there, you’ll be free, if you truly wish to be.”

Wonka is exceedingly optimistic, though never blindly so. He entrusts his secrets only to those who have earned his trust. He gives love to only those who can return it. Much like his factory, Wonka’s sunshiny interior can only be experienced by proving to his icy veneer that you’re worth being let in.

Compassion. Honesty. Education. Experience. Justice.

What more could you imagine?

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