Pure Imagination: The Music Of WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Christopher Morley knows what the world needs now..

In perhaps the best ever recorded case of pure imagination, the original 1971 musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's Charlie and The Chocolate Factory came about as the result of a child's wish. Director Mel Stuart's ten year old daughter read & loved the original book so much she asked daddy to make a film out of it....a wish which eventually came true after producer David Wolper managed to persuade the Quaker Oats Company to buy the rights to the book and finance the resulting film as a sort of feature-length advert for their new Wonka Bar - definitive proof that the candymen could do it while trying to make the world taste good.

Dahl himself wrote the majority of the screenplay, David Seltzer credited as co-writer after contributing the idea of Wonka quoting from various different sources of classic literature, adding ever more musical numbers & giving Slugworth, only briefly mentioned as a rival to Wonka in the book, more of a role on screen. Plus the twist that he's one of Wonka's agents gone rogue, the decision having been taken that the film needed a villain.

Producer & screenwriter having agreed on a musical format for the slightly tweaked Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, time to cast a leading man - the role given to Gene Wilder, who managed to fend off competition from a veritable who's who of British comedy including Spike Milligan & all the performing members of Monty Python. Gene had only one condition for taking the role,
“When I make my first entrance, I'd like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp. After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet.

As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I'm walking on and stands straight up, by itself; but I keep on walking, until I realize that I no longer have my cane.

I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.”
All a long-winded way of saying he didn't want the audience to be able to tell whether or not the reclusive master of sweets was telling the truth throughout!

The decision not to use Milligan caused Dahl to then completely disown the film, alongside concerns over rewrites of his original plot & the majority of the songs - with the notable exception of any written for the Oompa-Loompas.

Responsibility for the music was handed over to the team of Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley - Newley tackling the music, Bricusse the lyrics. The pair had considerable previous experience of adapting similar fare before entering the chocolate factory, as prior to their dip into Dahl they'd worked on the 1967 transition of Doctor Doolittle, and 1969's Goodbye Mr Chips both benefiting from the pair's ear for a tune.

Yet the New York Times weren't impressed with their latest finished product going by a review from July 1st 1971.
“The children have so few good films to claim as their own. Much as it pains us to say so, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" is not one of them. Yes, it's clean. It's also tedious and stagy with little sparkle and precious little humour.

The picture, which opened around town yesterday, cries out for animation, not live actors.

Bright colorations and a mercurial animated flow could have done wonders to Roald Dahl's story of a little boy allowed to tour a magic chocolate factory, with his character tested by a nimble chocolate impresario.

Most of the picture looks exactly like what it is, a fairly elaborate project shot by an American company inside a Bavarian studio.

The three leads, Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson and young Peter Ostrom, are quite appealing, unlike a pedestrian Leslie Bricusse-Anthony Newley score.

Take the youngsters only if they're tired of "Sesame Street," and why should they be? “
Ouch! A case of the New York Times reviewer lacking in pure imagination, perhaps?

Fast forward to around fifteen years after Dahl's passing in 1990, and Tim Burton would step up to direct his own take, negotiations having rumbled on since 1991 & resulting in full artistic control being given over to Roald's estate after his feelings made very public toward the first big screen adaptation.

Two of Burton's frequent collaborators would be called upon to help realise his vision - Johnny Depp as Wonka and Danny Elfman tackling the music. Notably, for the first time since The Nightmare Before Christmas, Danny was back writing & singing original songs as well as voicing the Oompa-Loompas, with no reference to the original Bricusse-Newley score but plenty to Dahl's book.....

Speaking to the LA Times, Elfman said,
“‘Charlie’ was a real departure. Tim’s idea was to take each song to a different genre. That’s why it was so unexpectedly fun.”
And while he did revisit the 1971 original film, inspiration initially came from an entirely different source!
“I was inspired by the big Bollywood musical numbers and I expected I’d do four more songs based on this, with one theme and variations. But Tim was, ‘No! When you’re watching the Bollywood musicals, one song is a ballad, one is a rock song, you get each song not knowing where they’re going to be coming from.’

Having first written a piece for Augustus Gloop, he then introduced varying styles for subsequent compositions.
“The second one I wrote was ‘Veruca Salt’ in which we’re going almost ‘60s folky-rocky."

"For ‘Mike Teavea’ it was inspired more by Queen and hair bands."

"Finally, when it was time for ‘Violet Beauregarde ’ I said, ‘Let’s do ‘70s funk, a little blaxploitation movie style.’

Easy, perhaps, in comparison to recording for the Oompa-Loompas!
“It was really insane, sitting in my studio, holding a microphone and improvising the voices, 50 at once. There were times I almost couldn’t continue, laughing so much I could barely do the parts.

Some are baritones, some tenors, some Munchkin-ized.... My wife would sort of hear it through the floor and sometimes would come in wondering if I was OK. There were moments she thought I was losing it.”
Proof, if it was ever needed that Danny Elfman is clearly not short in the imagination department himself.

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