It happens every time, they all become blueberries.

(originally posted on 25th November 2008 on Bobbin’s Movie Night)
Breaking News: Brown Ale Scones on Tea Time Menu – BBC News

You mention “scones” and a lot of people think about terribly British summer afternoons supping tea and munching cake with generous dollops of cream and jam. For me just mentioning this particular cake product brings out a cold sweat recalling lengthy debates over pronunciation, but somewhere in Northumberland customers are clamouring for some weird and wacky afternoon teas:

Garlic scone anyone?

But odd as Nibbles café may sound, movie land is where you find the truly bizarre consumables. Who can forget old Sweeney Todd and the charming Mrs Lovett feeding the London populace on… well… each other? And how about Delicatessen, where an admirably economical Parisian butcher makes his delectable dinners from some of his unwitting visitors? And need we even mention the possible accompaniments to a nice Chianti?

But the most creative of the movie world’s culinary crack-pots has to be the somewhat less cannibalistic Mr Willy Wonka.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Starring: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum, Roy Kinnear
Director: Mel Stuart
Running time: 100 mins
Genre: Children’s Musical

Mel Stuart’s film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s immortal novella Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an off the wall, but honest tribute to what Wonka would deem “pure imagination.” A beef scone might upset the traditional English cream tea, but luncheons where you devour the tea set itself takes nibbling to a whole new level; but chomping on a bright yellow teacup is perfectly ordinary if you are Willy Wonka…

Chocolate Factory keeps you on your toes, which is one reason why it has matured so well through the decades. While a bit of a box-office failure in its day Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory has come to be deemed a minor gem of a classic family film era.

Sadly though the magic of this film is let down by its potted attempt at musicality. Yes, the Oompa-Loompa song is the most maddening piece of music ever, and Veruca Salt has the best singing temper-tantrum I’ve seen in a film, but most of the songs are instantly forgettable. On top of this many of the pieces are shoehorned in seemingly at random, riddling the film with strange shifts in pace. “Candy-Man,” for example, is a memorable number, but for some reason devotes a lengthy sequence to the eminently unimportant “Bill the Candy Shop Owner” where as poor old Charlie finding the final golden ticket – the emotional pinnacle of his life-so-far – doesn’t get so much as a bar… What the heck?

In spite of its musical shortcomings the film ingeniously intertwines dark adult themes and child-like whimsy, with a colour pallet drawn straight from “Spot Finds His Big Red Ball On Acid.” The over-bright colours of the Chocolate Room exemplify 60s psychedelia, whereas the pedalo ride from hell (complete with its shots of decapitated chickens) is nothing short of terrifying. And that’s before we even get to the star of the show…

Wilder’s Wonka is the image of the twisted genius, with his piercing blue eyes, mad-professor hair and sinister smile, not to mention that fact that his tour is nothing short of torment to his guests. His casual indifference to their harm is light years away from our contemporary compensation culture of sanitised childhoods and cotton wool… but I can’t imagine the snotty brats getting off scot-free either, and I’ve yet to find a child who hasn’t been captivated by Wonka’s casual cruelty. Wilder’s boundless energy makes him reminiscent of a favourite uncle, and you just cannot help forgetting, or at least forgiving, his ‘little’ eccentricities.

So, just as Colin and Jacqui Nevin, proprietors of Nibbles café, take an unorthodox approach to a traditional recipe Wonka takes a crazy pot shot at the dangers of lax parenting. Delivered with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, Chocolate Factory imparts the message that bad parents produce “bad eggs,” just as reliably as a chocolate factory produces chocolate.

However, family-value fascism aside, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a truly magical film for all ages, inviting even the oldest of children into a world where anything is possible with a bit of imagination… and some really crazy props!


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