What do the story of a young boy who tours a candy factory and a tale about a family who travel by flying car have in common?
Both “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” by Ian Fleming are celebrating their 50th anniversaries this year. “Charlie” tells the story of Charlie Bucket, a young boy who finds a Golden Ticket in a Willy Wonka chocolate bar that qualifies him to join a small group that will tour the mysterious Wonka factory (and, unbeknownst to him, become part of the search for an heir for Wonka). Meanwhile, “Chitty,” whose author Fleming is best known for the “James Bond” novels, follows inventor Caractacus Pott and his children. Caractacus builds a car that soon begins to have powers of its own like the ability to fly.
The two stories followed similar adaptation patterns, with “Chitty” being turned into a movie starring Dick Van Dyke that was released in 1968 and “Charlie” being adapted into a movie starring Gene Wilder and Peter Ostrum that came out in 1971. It was filmed again for a 2005 version starring Johnny Depp and Freddie Highmore. “Chitty” was also the basis for a stage musical that opened in 2002 in London and 2005 on Broadway, while a stage musical of “Charlie” opened in London in 2013. The show is still playing there.
Los Angeles Times writer David L. Ulin recently looked back at his memories of “Chitty” in honor of the anniversary, calling it “a terrific kid’s adventure… it is playful yet full of suspense…. [I]llustrations by John Burningham … alone are worth the price of admission: rough-hewn, slightly outsized, with a vivid and peculiar grace…. [T]he book holds up, 50 years after its original publication, [because of] its sense of the world as an inexplicable but also miraculous place.”
Meanwhile, Guardian writer Lucy Mangan reminisced about “Charlie,” noting that it is “beloved of generations of children … and a furnisher of images and phrases that have entered the cultural lexicon forevermore.”