I love Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The real one, not that godforsaken Tim Burton/Johnny Depp atrocity. Gene Wilder is brilliant and though his Willy Wonka is friendly and warm, he is also clearly a little unhinged. The morality tale is the classic that everyone remembers and adores, and the one I feel is best representative of Roald Dahl's book, which I recently read to my boys and is as brilliant and funny and crazy as you might remember.
That being said, I hate Grandpa Joe.
Charlie is a paragon of virtue throughout the whole tale. He is honest and open and not subject to all the awfulness and excesses of the other Golden Ticket holders. I will never understand why he chose to take Grandpa Joe instead of his hardworking and long-suffering mother. In all other ways (with one notable exception, which I will get into in a second), Charlie makes all the right decisions, and stands for all the virtue and goodness that our parents wanted for us, and that we want for our own children. Why then did he take this old lazy peer-pressuring vindictive asshole to the factory as his plus one?
Ok, before you get out the torches and pitchforks, maybe I should lay it out for you.
1. Grandpa Joe is a bum.
This guy has been laying in bed for years, for YEARS while Charlie's mother is working her ass off sixteen plus hours a day to feed her kid and the old folk. She is in the laundry morning noon and night, they can barely afford the crappy little shack they live in, the only thing Charlie gets for his birthday is a single chocolate bar, that he is so grateful to have that he doesn't even eat the thing for weeks, he just sniffs the wrapper. Meanwhile, while Charlie's mom is putting in a hundred hours a week at the laundry just so everyone doesn't starve to death, Grandpa Joe is chilling in bed, laying about like there's nothing he can do. Oh yeah, it is said that he's an invalid, unable to do anything to contribute, but who is suddenly leaping about the shack when it seems that there is something in it for him? Suddenly, when there's a Golden Ticket in the house, Grandpa Joe is dancing around and singing I've got a Golden Ticket, like he was the one that brought it in the house, instead of Charlie. Oh sure, he's a little wobbly at first, but that's just because he's been laying on his lazy goldbricking ass for so long. It only takes him a minute, then he is fit as a fiddle, hopping about like Fred Astaire. I'm thinking: Hey Joe, if you were physically able to go to the Chocolate Factory, how about maybe getting a damn job so everyone is not stuck drinking cabbage water every night? I don't know, maybe pick up some of the slack, so Charlie's mom isn't searing all the flesh off of her arms with boiling water and lye every night to feed your sloth ass. How about you stop dancing and pick up a job application instead?
2. Joe is selfish.
This is a related point to him being a bum, but I feel it needs addressed. OK, so he gives Charlie a chocolate bar for his birthday, right? And that's very nice, the kid has it hard enough with that haircut, and the questionable teaching methods he is getting at school; he deserves something nice. Here's the thing about that though: Grandpa Joe says that he paid for the bar from his tobacco money! TOBACCO MONEY? Are you shitting me, Joe? You haven't worked a day in the last decade, and you're holding back tobacco money? How about maybe instead of buying some nice cherry blend for your evening pipe, you throw that in the grocery kitty so Charlie can get a bit of protein every once in a while? What do you need to smoke for, Joe? You need to relax? You lay in bed all day, Joe. You haven't had a job in years, Joe. What could possibly be stressing you out so much? Guilt maybe?
3. Grandpa Joe peer pressures his own grandson into stealing Fizzy Lifting Drink.
This would be pretty messed up even if it didn't nearly get them killed and cost them the prize, but it did both of those things, pushing this in to unforgivable territory. Grandpa Joe tells Charlie, It's OK buddy, let's have a sip even though Willy Wonka expressly forbid it moments ago. Come on little fella, no one's looking. Charlie, the good boy that he is, trusts his grandpa, the old jackass, and is nearly chopped up in an exhaust fan for his trouble. This follows a classic scenario: a creepy old guy tries to get you to ingest something, the real effects of which are unclear, and you think to yourself 'hey he's just an old man, what could be the harm?' So you choose to ignore the pedo-moustache, and trust that everything will be fine. But it is only after you start getting higher and higher that you realize that you probably shouldn't have trusted that old man and you begin to feel like you could really die. "Oh no," you think, "I'm too high! I'm too young to die!" But then you slowly start coming down and everything seems to be OK again. Never again, am I right? I like to think that Charlie, like the rest of us, learned this important lesson the hard way, and it is this very experience that leads him to go against Grandpa Joe's terrible advice near the end of the movie, which brings me to my last point.
4. Grandpa Joe tells Charlie to keep the Everlasting Gobstopper, and nearly costs them the Factory.
This is the worst thing Grandpa does in the movie in my opinion, if only because of the far reaching consequences of his pig-headed vindictiveness. We know how this plays out right? Wonka says, you stole Fizzy Lifting Drink! You lose! You get nothing, etc. And then he finishes with my personal favorite that I use all the time in real life: "I said good day, sir!" Then Grandpa Joe tells Charlie, if Slugworth wants a Gobstopper, we will give him one. But Charlie is a good boy. Charlie is everything that all those other kids aren't. Charlie is everything Joe himself isn't. He gives the Everlasting Gobstopper back, thus passing Wonka's final test. It all works out in the end for Charlie, and also for Grandpa Joe, through no help of his own, and it's all glass elevators all around and whathaveyou. But what if Charlie had listened to Grandpa Joe? What if he had listened to the very shitbird that had got them into this situation in the first place? Grandpa Joe urged Charlie to try the Fizzy Lifting Drink, and then to compound this error in judgement, urges him to keep the Gobstopper, and if Charlie had listened to his beloved Grandpa, it would have been back to the shack with the cabbage water and his mom working herself to death. Grandpa Joe encourages Charlie to be as big of a douchebag as himself, and it nearly costs them everything! I wonder, maybe old Joe was afraid that living in the factory, he wouldnt be able to go back to bed. Maybe he was afraid that if he moved into the factory, some Oompa-Loompas would make him work for his tobacco money, instead of being able to lounge around all day.
It all works out in the end for Charlie, but only because he was strong enough to step up and ignore the poor advice he is given by an adult. In a way, Charlie is the best kind of rebel: honest open and thoughtful, but not afraid to do the right thing in the face of mindless authority.
God bless you, Charlie Bucket.
Grandpa Joe, you suck.