Monday, August 13, 2012

The literary allusions of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

It's been a rough month for my childhood cultural icons.

We've lost Donald J. Sobol (Encyclopedia Brown author), Celeste Holm (Tom Sawyer actor), Sherman Hemsley (George Jefferson himself) and now Mel Stuart, director of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - one of the best kids' movies ever made (read my review on

The film's original screenplay was written by Roald Dahl and punched up by David Seltzer, who - according to Stuart in his behind-the-scenes book, Pure Imagination - enhanced the dialogue, added the Everlasting Gobstopper and the fizzy-lifting drink storylines, developed the Mr. Slugworth character, and changed Veruca Salt's punishment (in the book, she's attacked by squirrels).

Among the film's joys are its many literary references. It's unclear who inserted them into the screenplay, but they're not in Dahl's original book, which may mean it was Seltzer. Stuart says they're among his favorite parts of the film:
"Miracle of miracles most children had no trouble understanding and appreciating these references. If they didn't understand them the first time around, they caught up with them when they saw the film in later years."
When you start dissecting the dialogue, the film is as much a mashup as the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique. Unlike the Beastie Boys, Stuart confirms that the filmmakers got legal clearances for each of the lines, but "happily, most of them are from our good friend, William (public domain) Shakespeare."

One thing for sure: that Willy Wonka is a well-read guy. 

The literary allusions of Willy Wonka:

1. Shakespeare
  • "Where is fancy bred, in the heart or in the head?" (the Merchant of Venice) - when I was a kid, I thought it was "fancy bread." D'oh!
  • "So shines a good deed in a weary world." (the Merchant of Venice, though it's "naughty" world)
  • "Adieu, adieu, parting is such sweet sorrow." (Romeo and Juliet)
  • "Spring time, the only pretty ring time. When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding, sweet lovers love the spring." (As You Like It)
  • "Is it my soul that calls upon my name?" (Romeo and Juliet)
  • "Bubble cola, double cola, double bubble burp-a-cola -" (Macbeth - the "double toil and trouble" line from the witches)
2. Ogden Nash
  • "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker." (Reflections on Ice-Breaking)
  •  "99...44...100 per cent pure." (99 44/100% Sweet Home)
3. Oscar Wilde
  • "The suspense is terrible. I hope it lasts." (The Importance of Being Earnest)
4. John Keats
  • "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." (Endymion: A Poetic Romance)
5. John Masefield
  • "All I ask is a tall ship and a star to sail her by." (Sea Fever)
6. Hilare Belloc
  • "Oh, you should never, never doubt what nobody is sure about." (The Microbe)
 7.  William Allingham
  • "Around the world and home again - that's the sailor's way." (Homeward Bound)
  • "Up the airy mountain, down the rushing glen, we dare not go a-hunting, for fear of little men." (The Fairies)
8. Neil Armstrong
  • "A small step for mankind, a giant step for us."
9. Thomas Edison
  • "Invention, my dear friends, is 93 per cent perspiration, six per cent electricity, four per cent evaporation, and two per cent butterscotch ripple."
10. Arthur O'Shaughnessy
  • "We are the music makers. We are the dreamers of dreams." (Ode)
11. Lewis Carroll
  • "You should open your mouth a little wider when you speak." (Through the Looking-Glass)
12. Horace (or was this updated by someone else?)
  • "A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men." (Carmina)
13. Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Bubbles, bubbles everywhere, but not a drop to drink." (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner - that "water, water" line)
14. The Bible
  • "Across the desert lies the promised land."
  • "Swifter than eagles. Stronger than lions."
Any others?

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