Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Book Review: "Inside Charlie's Chocolate Factory" by Lucy Mangan

My favorite movie of all time is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the original version, starring Gene Wilder. (People who ask, "Which version," flummox me; as far as I'm concerned, there was never any reason to remake it in the first place!)

The book has always been a favorite of mine, too; in fact, Roald Dahl is one of those authors whose books were such an integral part of my childhood. (Interestingly, I've seen the movie so many times, and it's been a while since I read the book, so I sometimes forget which things were carried over into the film, and which things were created anew!)

Lucy Mangan's Inside Charlie's Chocolate Factory was written in 2014, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Dahl's book. For fans of the story and the movie, this book is a treasure trove of trivia, memorabilia, and fascinating facts, about what led Dahl to write the book, his life at the time it was written, and the inspirations behind each of the movie adaptations. Some things I knew, and some things I was really surprised by.

Some things I found really interesting:
  • The name "Willy Wonka" was pulled nearly out of thin air—Dahl's brother used to make a kind of boomerang for him, which he called "Skilly Wonka," so when Dahl sat down to write the book, he remembered that, and decided to change two letters in the name, and the rest is history.

  • Broadway actor (and eventual Academy Award winner) Joel Grey was one of director Mel Stuart's first choices to play Wonka in the 1971 film, yet despite his proven ability to sing, dance, and act, he felt Grey "wasn't physically imposing enough" to be a surrogate father figure to the children. (They found out later that Fred Astaire had been interested in playing the part, but nothing came to fruition; perhaps the fact that Astaire was in his early 70s at the time convinced him not to pursue it.)

  • Although in my mind, and the mind of countless moviegoers through the years, Gene Wilder was truly the quintessential Willy Wonka, apparently Dahl disliked Wilder's portrayal. Apparently he wanted an actor like Peter Sellers, and he was unhappy that Wilder was completely wrong for the role, playing it for "subtle adult laughs." (Ironically, that's one of the things I love so much about his performance—the sly asides which became clearer with multiple viewings, and getting older.)

This book once again reminded me why I love Willy Wonka the character, and the movie, so much. Mangan did some terrific research and although the book doesn't quite follow a linear path—it jumps between the book and the movie adaptations from time to time—Mangan keeps your interest the whole way through. This is as much a story of Dahl as it is his characters and his creative process.

You don't have to be the kind of person who knows the entire movie word for word, used a quote from the movie as his senior quote in college ("We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams"), and has a collection of character figurines in their office at work to enjoy this book. If you have fond memories of being read, or reading, Dahl's original book, or watching the movie, you'll enjoy this deliciously delightful trip into the world of pure imagination.

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