Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Mel Stuart

America Needs Willy Wonka Now More Than Ever

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

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Mel Stuart
20 June 1971

This commentary is not about Roald Dahl’s character from his 1964 film-inspiring book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and certainly not Johnny Depp’s interpretation of the character in Tim Burton’s 2005 adventure comedy, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which is just the worst. But that’s a topic for another day. This is about Mel Stuart’s 1971 musical.

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

Imagine having the chance to weed out all the nastiness of the world 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, and social 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. On the surface of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, we have an individual in Wonka who has dedicated his life to the mass production of joy and delight. Unnatural, teeth-decaying joy and delight, but joy and delight nonetheless. He is unusual, and he is socially difficult. Look a bit closer, however, and you’ll find a deeply compassionate and inspiring character. He’d make a nice president.

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 the 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 preserving his livelihood. He sees the goodness in helping those in need while no less being 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 Americans 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 (played by Peter Ostrum), only wants to win the factory tour to experience a brighter world, if only for a day. Charlie wants the prize so that he might help feed the community of bedridden elders that share his home. Accordingly, Wonka chooses Charlie to succeed him. While it’s tough to say whether choosing your heir via morality tests would 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 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…”

What is Willy Wonka’s defining characteristic? What drives him? What is the one thing that America needs, possibly now more than ever?


For all his tricks, critiques, and disguises, Wonka’s belief in humankind’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.”

Indeed, Wonka is exceedingly optimistic, though not 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 chocolate 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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