I, like you, love Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
There are the usual reasons of course – its airtight script, charming songs, clever dialogue, and wondrous cinematography, not to mention the central enchanting performance of Gene Wilder. But beyond these aspects is the intense level of detail present and how each time revisiting the film brings something new to the surface, whether it’s a character’s reaction, a bit of dialogue, or a piece of set design. The film is just so damn rich.
And since the film holds so much detail, fans often zero in on specific parts or craft theories to add to the tapestry. Some bits that come to mind are the “scumbag Grandpa Joe” memes and the theory that Wonka represents Satan and all the children represent (and are undone by) the Seven Deadly Sins.
But chief among the Wonka apocrypha is the niggling thought anyone who’s watched the movie – from kids to adults alike – has had: “Did… did he eat those kids?”
On that point, only his slave laborers know for sure. But I’ll tell you one thing: those kids are dead.
It’s been long assumed by fans, and arguably is self-evident in the film, that Wonka’s “contest” is actually a set-up. This is partially confirmed by Wonka himself. In the end, we learn that not only is the villainous faux-Slugworth in actuality an operative of Wonka, but that Wonka has really been seeking an heir the entire time. He even tells Charlie that the boy “passed the test” by being moral.
But if Wonka is seeking an heir, and even notes that he knew long ago he would need a child and not a grown-up, are we to believe the five Golden Ticket finders just happened to be children? Sure, children eat a lot of candy, but as seen in the film, adults are spending thousands upon thousands of dollars on the “contest.”
What if one of them, or five of them, had found the tickets? What of Wonka’s plans then?
It’s almost a certainty that there was no contest, and that Wonka ensured that five children would find the tickets. What is our proof of this? Slugworth. Slugworth appears at the side of every child within minutes to hours of them finding the Golden Ticket. Three of these instances are in public, and he often appears “disguised” as a reporter helping him to blend in, but in the case of Veruca Salt he’s within a private factory prior to the ticket even being found. He appears to be working as some kind of foreman for Mr. Salt, which certainly makes it seem as though he’s spent a decent amount of time there.
But in each instance, no matter where in the world a ticket is found, Slugworth is on the scene to whisper in each child’s ear. He knew where the tickets were and who would get them.
And while we don’t get as much evidence to support it, I’m of the belief that the candy store owner is in on everything as well. He’s the one who hands Charlie the winning bar – after he recommends it – and once Charlie takes it the camera lingers on the owner for a few beats as he watches Charlie walk away. This is a little odd since shouldn’t Charlie be the focus of this scene?
Seconds later we discover that the fifth Golden Ticket previously discovered was a fraud. The man pictured above looks like he already knows that. Through his operatives, Wonka has hand-picked his “winners,” but why these specific children?
If Wonka is looking for one child to replace him, and he’s hand-picking the possibilities, what made him choose these five options? At least two of them, Mike and Veruca, are outwardly terrible, and a little research (which surely happened) would show Violet and Augustus wouldn’t be ideal picks. Charlie, of course, stands out as pure, good-hearted, and from a background that would make him appreciate the factory. The others though?
Instead of selecting five “noble” children, Wonka has rigged the game again, choosing one good child and four awful ones. The other kids aren’t really in the running. They’re there to serve as an example to Charlie of how not to behave. If one of the bad ones had made it through Wonka’s House of Horrors unscathed, they, like Charlie, would have received Wonka’s “You get nothing!” speech, letting them turn around and try to sell him out to fake Slugworth.
At the end of the film, Wonka tells Charlie all the kids will be returned to their previous awful selves but may be a bit wiser for the wear following their experiences. Considering all the lies and deceptions Wonka perpetrates throughout the film and as part of the “contest,” should we really believe him though?
This claim is also called into question since the ways the children are disposed of directly relate to their particular grievous flaw. Yes, the story is largely a morality play and a fable for children, but within the world of the story these are just kids who “won” the contest, so dramatic irony shouldn’t really be in play. While I’m sure you recall, I’ll briefly recap:
- The gluttonous Augustus is sucked into the chocolate pipe
- The combative and prideful Violet is undone by sampling forbidden gum
- The greedy Veruca finds her avarice to lead only to the trash
- The TV-obsessed Mike ends up negatively transformed by his obsession
Since Wonka knew who was going to win the contest, and he knew how awful each of them were and in what ways, I think it’s reasonable to assume these perfectly rendered ironic punishments are no accident. This is supported by the fact that the Oompa Loompas have a song ready to go following each child’s punishment, something remarked upon in the 2005 remake:
Also, each child’s death is teased during their punishment scene, despite Wonka’s claim at the end that they’ll be fine.
- Wonka tells an Oompa Loompa that Augustus might end up in the boiler
- Wonka states Violet must be squeezed of juice or she’ll explode
- Wonka says the garbage chute Veruca fell down leads to the furnace
- Wonka tells an Oompa Loompa he “won’t hold him responsible” following a whispered question about stretching Mike to his regular size
While we could take Wonka’s words about the kids’ safety at face value, the recurring implications of their deaths, combined with the fact that we never see them again, seems to be pretty compelling evidence for them not making it home. And just consider what Mr. Salt says early in the film, and Wonka’s response:
Mr. Salt: I doubt if any of us will get out of here alive.
Wonka: Oh, you should never, never doubt what nobody is sure about.
On top of all this, consider how both the boat on the chocolate river and the car that drives through the “Hsawaknow” (Wonkawash) lack enough seats to carry all the children and parents who came that day, indicating Wonka knows how many people will be gone at each stage. The boat lacking seats being a deliberate choice was even confirmed by the film’s director, Mel Stuart.
Wonka’s goal is to secure a quality heir. Once the kids have served their purpose by showing Charlie the kinds of behaviors that won’t fly around the factory, perhaps Wonka thinks he’d be better off not having a lot of children spilling all his candy-making secrets to the world.
The conclusive evidence, though, comes in one key scene.
Hey, What About Charlie?!
Charlie, as we know, is the noble child and the one selected to inherit the factory and presumed fortune, if he is truly worthy. And one moment in the film finds his worth called into question, leading to the aforementioned “You get nothing!” speech: He steals Fizzy Lifting Drinks.
He is, of course, goaded into this by Grandpa Joe, but Charlie drinks along with him, leading to both of them floating up and up. It’s all fun and games until the two notice the spinning fan blades above and the slick, stainless steel walls preventing them from stopping.
And this is how I know the other kids are dead. Another “off limits” item – like the chocolate river, three-course meal gum, golden chocolate eggs, and Wonkavision set – is dangled before the children and this time it’s Charlie who bites.
And while Wonka says Mr. Salt and Veruca have a “good sporting chance” of not being killed in the lit-every-other-day furnace, and he assures the parents that Violent and Mike can be cured, and says that Augustus will be rescued…what’s the endgame with the fan blades?
If Grandpa Joe and Charlie don’t discover that burping lowers them, then they’ll quickly be mangled and dismembered in the blades. There’s no whimsical solution to their punishment, so why should we think there is for the other kids, the ones Wonka didn’t really want there, didn’t like at all, and certainly wasn’t going to hand his factory to?
They’re gone. And that giant contract all the parents signed? It’s almost certainly the mother of all nondisclosure agreements.