The Horrible Truth About Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory


I used to love Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the 1971 movie starring Gene Wilder.

Before VCR's, DVD players, on-demand, and streaming video, sometimes you just had to wait for a movie to be broadcast on television.

So there was a certain amount of anticipation. You couldn't just call up any movie you wanted on demand. And since, to my memory, Willy Wonka didn't air all that often, I would be overjoyed when it came on. Literally, I would rearrange my schedule or stop whatever I was doing to watch it. If I was channel surfing and I came across Willy Wonka, no matter how much of the movie I'd missed, time would stop. It's really hard now to articulate to people just how awesome it felt to realize something was on television that I hadn't seen in awhile. It felt like Christmas.

The Original Book: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

The original book by Roald Dahl
The original book by Roald Dahl

As an adult, I've really looked forward to sitting down with my kids and reading about Willy Wonka in Roald Dahl's original book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and watching the two movies.

That was until I realized after listening to the audiobook over and over again and analyzing the movies that Willy Wonka, the hero of my youth, is a colossal dick.

Why We Love Willy Wonka

Our favorite candy tycoon.
Our favorite candy tycoon. | Source

Fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory most vividly remember the fantastical character of Willy Wonka, a reclusive candy business owner who re-opens his factory to five lucky children, who get to see and taste his wonderful creations.

To children who often long for the sweet taste of candy, the idea of visiting a factory like Willy Wonka's is the stuff of dreams. After all, every child fantasizes about a shopping spree in a candy store and eating candy until they puke. Candy is wonderful.

On the surface, it would seem that the moral of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is that good children are rewarded and bad children are punished. Roald Dahl's original story is a condemnation of many things including bad parenting, gum-chewing, television, spoiling children, over-eating, and self-indulgence.

Most of us love that the innocent, likable, impoverished Charlie wins the factory in the end. It's a classic rags-to-riches tale against a creative, sugar-filled backdrop.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory [Blu-ray]
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory [Blu-ray]

Still a movie full of fun and wonder, worth watching over and over again. But if you watch carefully, you'll notice there's a darker theme hiding behind the songs and candy...


What Willy Wonka is Really About

The hardworking Oompa Loompas.
The hardworking Oompa Loompas. | Source

Candy and justice - is that what Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is really about?

Actually, no.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is about slave labor and injustice. And that message is not at all hidden. It's right there slapping us in the face over and over again. It's just that most of us have chosen to ignore it. We've buried our heads in the chocolate river.

In fact, the book and the movies ask children to celebrate the exploitation of people for wealth and the supremacy of white people, who should be the masters of their destiny and everyone else's destiny too. It's an indoctrination in classic wealth-building and Imperialist brutality, served up from the master's perspective.

To fully understand Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you have to look at the story from the point-of-view of the Oompa Loompas, the little people who do the actual work in Willy Wonka's factory.

Wonka as Evil CEO


Years before Charlie had his visit to the factory, Willy Wonka ran his candy business with regular workers, not "little funny colored people." But because Willy Wonka was the greatest candy maker in the land, his enemies sent spies into his factory, stole his ideas, and recreated his greatest candy creations.

This produced overwhelming paranoia in Mr. Wonka. His solution? Fire all his workers and shut down his factory. In fact, it's revealed in the first movie that Grandpa Joe used to work in Wonka's factory and was one of the unlucky workers let go (an addition from the story in the original book). So, rather than develop a security solution or management solution to deal with these spies, like a sane person would, Willy Wonka fired his entire workforce. In the case of Charlie's parents, the Buckets, and probably numerous other families who relied on those jobs for their livelihood, it pushed them into poverty.

The degree of misery caused by Wonka's decision never made it into the story. Although we hear nothing about the town where the factory resides, it's probable that the city, or at the very least the neighborhood, was decimated by that decision. Yet, instead of being thought of as a villain, Willy Wonka is considered a hero. He's the creative genius who just wasn't allowed to be free to be himself and do his thing.

So what was Willy Wonka's solution to the spying conducted by his enemies? Slave labor. Particularly in the first movie, the factory is run by "little colored people" from a far away, exotic land (very interesting they could be described as "colored" even in the '70s). In the second movie, the Oompa Loompas are of Indian descent, which essentially signifies that Wonka outsourced his entire operation. In the book, they are simply described as very small, no taller than your knee.

There are two versions of any story, but we never get to hear the Oompa Loompas' side. It's undoubtedly different from Willy Wonka's side. Slave masters who purchased Africans and brought them to America had many things to say about their practice intended to make it appear righteous. The Africans they brought were simple people who needed saving because they couldn't take care of themselves. They used the hymns that the enslaved Africans sang as proof that they were happy. "Look, they're singing," the slave masters would say, "they're happy."

Of course, the slaves' versions of events was very different. They were abused, mistreated, and miserable. Most of them desired freedom more than anything.

The only version of the Oompa Loompas we hear is Willy Wonka's version. Even if we decided to give Wonka credit for a mostly accurate portrayal of the Oompa Loompas' plight, it remains a fact that they have toiled in his factory for many years to make it a success. They, more than anyone, know what it takes to run that business and make the best candy in the world, and they are utterly loyal to Willy Wonka (in part because they are apparently not allowed to leave the factory).

So what in the world is Willy Wonka doing when he decides to give his factory away to some utterly random ten-year-old white child instead of giving the factory to the Oompa Loompas who are almost entirely responsible for his continued success? If Willy Wonka cared about the Oompa Loompas, he would have given them the factory. He would have said: "You are beautiful, hard-working people and you deserve the spoils of your labor. Here's my factory - a gift to you for so many years of hard work." Instead, little Charlie gets it.

If the Oompa Loompas were good enough to work in the factory and do virtually everything to make it successful, they should have been good enough to run the factory in Wonka's absence. He could have taught them whatever management and marketing tips he knew, though that didn't seem to matter much. All that mattered was that his candy was the best. Still, apparently a small boy was a more attractive owner than the Oompa Loompas. Once again, the people who work in the factory get screwed over by the guy who owns the factory because he doesn't trust them.

Willy Wonka is truly lucky that the Oompa Loompas didn't kill him in his sleep.

What's Your Favorite Version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

  • 1971 Gene Wilder Film
  • 2005 Tim Burton Film
  • Original Roald Dahl Story
See results without voting

© 2013 Sychophantastic

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peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 20 months ago from Home Sweet Home

i only saw the chocolate factory with johnny depp, thanks for the real story

Sychophantastic profile image

Sychophantastic 2 years ago Author

Thanks for reading! I appreciate the comments. I so wish I were wrong about Willy Wonka.

AtlasSue profile image

AtlasSue 2 years ago

Childhood= Ruined! Awesome Read!

Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 2 years ago

Another way of looking at it is as a way of introducing children to the realities of corporate life. If there is someone who can be made to do the job cheaper, they're in, you're out. When a higher up opening pops up don't expect they will promote from within. If something goes really wrong it's the worker's fault.

vineliner57 profile image

vineliner57 2 years ago from Bloomington, IN

It seems to me the movie is a reflection of some of the ills of society that are still going on to this day.

indiabbie profile image

indiabbie 2 years ago from Texas

I really enjoyed this. :)

Sychophantastic profile image

Sychophantastic 2 years ago Author

I don't recall them being paid in cocoa beans. Nevertheless, that's hardly sufficient given that they saved Wonka's factory! They still deserved the factory in the end, not Charlie.

PamJam 2 years ago

I see how you think that, but I think the Oompa Loompas were rescued from being killed and actually paid in cocoa beans for their labor. I think there are racist overtones, but not as directly as you argue. Dahl was probably more anglocentric than an outright racist.

bethperry profile image

bethperry 2 years ago from Tennesee

I see your point, but I tend to see Wonka's motives as running a little deeper. I think the Wonka understood the Oompa Loompas (the ones he recruited, anyway) all shared a certain fetish for bondage. If he had handed the chocolate factory over to them, he would basically have been dissing their alternative lifestyle choice. With the factory being handed over to a human boy instead, the Oompa Loompas were given the opportunity to mold him into the callous master of their fantasies. Thus, Wonka was actually displaying great respect for their cultural choices by damning them to continued servitude.

Except for maybe that female Oompa Loompa Wonka is rumored to have married after retirement; Hilda the Whip Brandisher. I hear they made for a very "striking" couple in their chocolate-dipped leather boots.


TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

TIMETRAVELER2 3 years ago

I will never watch that movie again in the same way! This is terrible!

Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 3 years ago from USA

This is an interesting analysis. I have to admit that when I first read the book for the first time as a child, many years ago, I did have an uneasy feeling about how mean he was to the kids and to his workers. I hadn't thought that he should have given the factory to his workers. That does make the most sense.

LisaMarie724 profile image

LisaMarie724 3 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

Interesting, never really thought about it that way.

rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

Thanks for a great interpretation of Willie Wonka. What deep social meanings.! Very, very interesting read.

Sychophantastic profile image

Sychophantastic 3 years ago Author

I just couldn't figure out what his excuse would be for not giving them the factory.

cfin profile image

cfin 3 years ago from The World we live in

Something you may find interesting....I noticed while watching "fringe", that most, if not all of the villains are "foreign". I am foreign and still love the show, but its just another taste of Hollywood strangeness.

Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 3 years ago from Baltimore, MD

Wow, I never thought of it this way before. Now I feel bad for the Oompa Loompas. I always thought they were filled with so much joy and chocolate until now. Bummer.

cfin profile image

cfin 3 years ago from The World we live in


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