Just a few months after yours truly entered the world for the first time, these little things burst onto the cinema screen in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. It was a few years later, of course, before I finally got to see it, but I always thought it was super cool that the main little boy in the movie shared my name. It was the Oompa-Loompas that I remembered most from the movie because of just how bizarre they were. I have no idea why they popped into my head or why I thought to doodlewash one, but that’s where we landed today.
Basically, for anyone who’s unfamiliar with the story, five lucky kids get to enter an elusive and eccentric chocolate-makers factory having procured golden tickets. Each time one misbehaves they are met with some unfortunate fate and the Oompa-Loompas come to remove them from the scene while singing ominous moralizing songs about their misdeeds. They were knee-high, and they were orange, and they were absolutely terrifying. I remember thinking if I didn’t complete my homework they might show up, popping their heads in my window and start singing their insidiously catchy songs.
The movie was based on a book by Roald Dahl who is my all-time favorite author of children’s books. His stories were super dark and didn’t talk down to kids and I loved them for that. His original Oompa-Loompas (called Whipple-Scrumpets before publication) started out as African pygmies until he rewrote them to be white-skinned and blonde. The movie version opted for a more colorful version with orange skin and green hair. In the book there were whole families of Oompa-Loompas with the men wearing skins, women wearing leaves, and children simply running around naked. This was, thankfully, also changed for the movie version.
The movie was creepy, but also one of my favorites as a kid. Willy Wonka, played by Gene Wilder, was a fascinatingly odd and wonderfully crazy character (as played by Johnny Depp years later he was just a creepy pervert). The original movie contained a song called “Cheer Up Charlie” and this soon became something my family members would repeat to me, much to my dismay, whenever I got grumpy. Slightly better than having the other kids at school constantly say, “Sorry Charlie” thanks to those darn Starkist Tuna commercials.
But I loved the book much more than the movie. In fact, I preferred books to movies when I was a kid. Still do actually. There’s just something more fun about being able to imagine something for myself rather than having someone else show me what they think it should look like. Now, it’s really hard to get this version of an Oompa-Loompa out of my brain. These orange little guys have been burned into my head since childhood, thanks to that small screen in my living room. Perhaps that’s why Roald Dahl had his Oompa-Loompas making this plea to kids everywhere:
“Oh, books, what books they used to know, Those children living long ago! So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, And in its place you can install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall.”
Roald Dahl, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory