What Life Lessons Does Willy Wonka Illustrate?

Our son recently completed a book report for school, and his choice for this assignment was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When he began reading it, we promised him that he’d be allowed to watch the movie, but only after he’d finished his report. After watching it, I felt like the 2005 remake of the original (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, wasn’t nearly as good as the classic that many of us grew up with.

So, naturally, we had to go back and watch the original as a family! I had forgotten what an eccentric dude Willy Wonka is, and the scene when they’re in the boat going through the tunnel still gives me the creeps. Through the movie, though, it’s nice to leave reality for a bit and visit, as the lyrics say, “a world of pure imagination.” If you pay close attention throughout the movie, you’ll pick up on many lessons that apply in real life.

Art imitates life

Something in the movie that is absolutely reality is the behavior of the bratty, spoiled kids. Augustus Gloop is the embodiment of gluttony. Given enough time, I’m confident he would have eaten everything in that giant room of edible plants and consumed that entire river of chocolate. In the end, he didn’t know when to stop, although Wonka asked him repeatedly to keep his hands out of the river. Lesson: do everything in moderation.

Speaking of a spoiled brat, enter Veruca Salt. From golden eggs, to feasts, to parties, she wants it all. And she wants it “now!” Unfortunately, her dad promises her whatever she wants, and he seems to believe that money can buy anything, including her happiness. We know that money alone can’t buy happiness, although millions of people still operate like it can. It’s called “hedonic adaptation” or the “hedonic treadmill.” Essentially, people continually want more or better, even though they’ve just obtained something that they were certain would satisfy their desires. Lesson: be content and appreciate what you have.

Mike Teevee is addicted to TV. His mom even proudly proclaims that he’s never even eaten a meal at the dinner table; she brings his meals to him at the couch. There’s something to be said about sitting down to dinner as a family, where you can share stories and talk about the day. If his character were recreated in modern times, it would likely be called Mike Cellphone or Mike Electronicdevice. We’ve become addicted to our devices, much to the detriment of being present and engaging with other humans. Lesson: put the phones down, turn off the TV, and participate in life.

Violet Beauregarde loves the spotlight and is one of those people that likes to talk more then she listens. I think we all know someone like that, right? From my experience, people like that are difficult to be around for any extended period of time. In healthy relationships, we need to work on listening more than we speak. We need to show others that it’s not all about us, and that we value their relationship by making it a two-way street. Lesson: don’t make everything about you.

And then there’s Charlie. There’s a lot to love about Charlie Bucket. Charlie is the antithesis of the other four contest winners; he is a hard-working, caring, and compassionate kid who puts other people first. He lives in poverty and helps support his family by working a paper route. He selflessly shares with his whole family a loaf of bread that he bought with his own money, and a chocolate bar that was given to him as a birthday present. I noticed that, even in poverty, Charlie always seems to have a positive demeanor and appears to be a happy boy. For him, pleasure is found in simple things that most people take for granted, like a chocolate bar (when he normally eats only cabbage soup) or wearing the scarf one of his grandmothers has knitted for him. And, by displaying honesty and returning the Gobstopper to Willy Wonka, Charlie ultimately wins the contest and grand prize of the chocolate factory. Lesson: honesty and doing the right thing win out every time.

You will live in happiness too…

I can’t write a post about Willy Wonka without mentioning the Oompa Loompa, and their songs. Each of their four songs says we can live in happiness just like they do, if we follow a few simple rules: don’t be greedy; have good manners; don’t be a brat. And a point about that last rule: watching this movie as an adult (and parent), I can appreciate even more the truth behind the sentiment that we, as parents, have nobody to blame but ourselves if our kids act like spoiled brats. It is our responsibility to develop the positive character traits that Charlie displays, and not the destructive ones shown by Augustus, Veruca, Mike, and Violet.

As we saw with each of the five kids in the movies, one thing is certain for all of us — every choice we make carries a consequence. Make choices that will lead you to a life of personal freedom, happiness, purpose, and impact!