Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Candyman

"So shines a good deed in a weary world."

Willy Wonka

For some reason, I remember that "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" — which premiered on June 30, 1971 — was the first movie that my younger brother was permitted to see at the theater without my parents.

I don't know why I remember that. I must have overheard a discussion between my parents about whether he should be allowed to see it without them — and the memory of that has embedded itself in my mind.

That wasn't an issue for me. I had been going to movies without my parents' physical presence (but, at that point in my life, always with their blessing) for awhile. In fact, I don't remember the first movie I was allowed to see without them.

(I do remember feeling as if I had taken another step toward being a grown–up, but that is all I remember. And, in hindsight, it wasn't so grown up after all. I mean, I think my parents started allowing me to go to movies without them when I was in first grade — and they might have moved the schedule up a bit for my brother.)

As the oldest of the two children in my family, however, it was my duty, at times, to act as a chaperone for my brother. I don't recall having such a companion when I first went to movies without my parents. Perhaps the arrangement was presented to me as an outing with a friend who might have been a year or so older than I was — and I never realized that my parents had arranged for a surrogate.

Anyway, in the months ahead, I was called upon to accompany my brother to several films that my parents had concluded had the potential to be traumatizing for him (and, therefore, he needed someone reassuring nearby) — but there was really no such possibility with "Willy Wonka."

Or was there?

The movie was punctuated with catchy music. In fact, the music was the only part of the movie that received an Oscar nomination. Sammy Davis Jr. turned one of the songs from the movie into his signature piece. His version of "The Candy Man" was at the top of the charts in 1972.

There were also a lot of colorful, candyesque images — actual candy, fantasy candy or just bright candy colors. Nothing traumatizing about that.

Yes, "Willy Wonka" seemed harmless enough. And it was, I guess. Oh, sure, there were some scenes that could have been disturbing for my 8–year–old brother. (Those orange–faced Oompa Loompas were bizarre, I'll grant you. Not exactly benign characters the way the Munchkins in "The Wizard of Oz" had been.)

He might even have felt inclined to be upset at times — until he looked at his older brother sitting next to him, and he realized there was nothing to be concerned about. I don't know if that was what happened — but I would like to think it was. It would give my presence some validity, I suppose.

I didn't really need my brother's validation, though. I enjoyed the movie. I never saw the Johnny Depp remake (that wasn't a conscious decision on my part, but I must confess that I had heard talk that he intended to take an entirely different approach to the role of Wonka than Gene Wilder had, which did make me more resistant to the idea of seeing it). Don't know if I ever will.

In a way, I guess, I look upon Wilder's interpretation of the Wonka role the way I do Peter Sellers' interpretation of the Inspector Clouseau role. I can't imagine anyone else doing them.

(My brother has seen Steve Martin in the remakes of the "Pink Panther" movies, by the way, and says they were good.)

Some remakes are good ideas. Sometimes they actually are better than the originals. In my experience, though, most of the time, they are not.

Steve Martin's performance as Inspector Clouseau may be one of those exceptions, and Depp's interpretation of the Wonka role may be, too.

And maybe, one day, I will find that out for myself.

But, even if I do, I suspect that I will still prefer the originals.