|My social media post upon learning of the death of Gene Wilder.|
Today, actor Gene Wilder died. He portrayed Willy Wonka in the classic film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” He was the first to portray this character and, for many of us, the iconic version. News of his death is spreading on social media and so many people are commenting about how much they love that movie. What was it about that movie and Mr. Wilder’s portrayal of the character from the Roald Dahl book that resonated with so many of us?
I lecture and write about how young children think so I am intrigued about the movie’s appeal. There was a lot in that movie that spoke to the ages and stages of development that we learned from theorists like Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky and others. The movie had so much melding of reality and fantasy. Like the world in which a child lives, there was magical thinking – entirely edible rooms, tiny doorways that anyone could fit through, a drink that would have humans floating among the bubbles. There were catchy tunes and children love lyrics they can remember like “Pure Imagination,” “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” and “Candyman.” There was even slapstick comedy at a child’s level of understanding. Who could forget when Augustus got stuck in the tube or Violet inflated or the four grandparents in the bed together? Granted, it was insensitive but it was of its time. There were the unforgettable lines like “You’re turning violet, Violet,” “I want my Oompa Loompa now” and “So much time, so little to do. Strike that. Reverse it.” The movie had everything that could make it a success among children but why did it stay with so many of us? Why are we still such big fans?
I believe that we love it so much because it was about what we all wish for our lives – that dreams can come true. There can be tough times along the way – peers are zapped and shrink, Slugworth tries to get you to give away secrets and you might even get caught being sneaky with the fizzy lifting drink – but in the end when you make good choices, your dreams can come true.
That is the magic of this movie. Charlie’s dreams come true. Willy Wonka’s dreams come true. And maybe, we actually can all live happily ever after.
Rest in peace, Mr. Wilder, and I hope you know what that one character, in a lifetime of so many acting roles, meant to so many of us.
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