Pure Imagination: The Story of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

“Pure Imagination” is about the making of the film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

It’s a crisp 30 minutes and interviews every key cast member and the director, producers and music team.

I love this doc so much that I added it to #3 on my list of “Best Making of Movie Documentaries” (13 of them!).

Watch “Pure Imagination: The Story of ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”

You can watch the full “Pure Imagination” documentary for free on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTIRYLIVqE


  • My Rating: 93/100
  • IMDB Rating: 7.7/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Ratings: na

Release Date: August 29, 2001 (that’s when the “Pure Imagination” documentary began to be included in DVD and videocassette editions of the “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” movie.

Review of “Pure Imagination: The Story of ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”

In 1970, a delightful collision of creativity, whimsy, and a bit of corporate ambition birthed “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”

This beloved film, directed by Mel Stuart and produced by Dave Wolper, was more than just a cinematic treat.

Origin Story of the FIlm

The origin story of this fantastical film was Director Mel Stuart’s daughter, Madeline.

She was just 10 years old and loved Roald Dahl’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.

She suggested to her dad that he make a movie out of it. Stuart took the idea to Wolper, who in turn convinced Quaker Oats to fund the film.

Quaker Oats was game because they wanted to get into the chocolate bar business.

They financed the movie with a cool $3 million, aiming to create a promotional vehicle for a new candy bar they wanted to launch.

After hearing the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory pitch, they gave a name to the new bar: the”Wonka Bar”.

In fact Stuart and Wolper had to rename the movie to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” to reinforce the “Wonka” to sell more “Wonka Bars”.

Cool sidenote: Mel Stuart also directed one of my favorite documentaries: “Running on the Sun: The Badwater 135” which I reviewed as part of my “17 Best Ultra Running Documentaries”


Little did they know, the movie would outlive the candy by decades (not hard since the bar’s formula was screwed up and it melted so much it was pulled off the shelves).

Filming took place in Munich, Germany, chosen for its timeless, fairy-tale ambiance.

This decision was partly to ensure the movie’s setting remained ambiguous, making it feel universal.

The filming spanned five months, from late May to October 1970, with a cast of actors who would forever be associated with their iconic roles.

Gene Wilder’s portrayal of Willy Wonka was legendary. His idea to introduce Wonka with a fake limp and a somersault was pure genius.

Wilder believed it would set the tone for Wonka’s unpredictability, making it impossible for the audience to know whether he was trustworthy or a little mad.

Wilder told Stuart it was a deal-breaker if they didn’t include the scene.

Wilder also decided not

Peter Ostrum, cast as Charlie Bucket, was just 12 years old and had no prior acting experience.

He was discovered after an extensive search, culminating in a screen test in late July. By early August, he was on a plane to Munich.

Ostrum’s innocent charm and natural sincerity made him perfect for the role.

The young cast included Julie Dawn Cole as the spoiled Veruca Salt, Denise Nickerson as the gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde, Paris Themmen as the TV-obsessed Mike Teevee, and Michael Bollner as the gluttonous Augustus Gloop.

Each child brought their unique flair to their roles, creating memorable characters that have endured for generations.

Stuart initially had no music planned for the film. But they commissioned the hot team of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse to suggest some music.

“Pure Imagination,” sung by Wilder, became an instant classic.

The composers were initially tasked with creating just three or four songs, but their work exceeded all expectations, adding a timeless quality to the movie.

One of the movie’s unforgettable elements was the Oompa Loompas, played by a diverse group of actors. They included Rudy, a German actor who brought to life these quirky, moralistic characters.

Their catchy songs and unique appearances were a significant departure from the book’s original depiction, but they became an integral part of the movie’s charm.

The Set (some it really was edible!)

The sets, designed by Harper Goff, were a visual feast.

The chocolate river, the giant edible mushrooms, and the fantastical boat all contributed to the film’s dreamlike quality.

Wilder estimates that a third of the candy on set was edible (though the tea cup he took a bite out of was wax) (he spit it out after the camera stopped filming)

Despite the movie’s whimsical exterior, it tackled serious themes.

Gene Wilder noted that the film was made for adults as much as for children, addressing complex issues like greed, indulgence, and the importance of imagination.

This dual appeal contributed to the film’s lasting success.

The Initial Lukewarm Reception to the Film (and chocolate bar flop)

The initial reception of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” was lukewarm.

Gene Wilder recalled that some parents found it too frightening, but kids were captivated.

Over time, the movie found its audience, becoming a cherished classic.

The Quaker Oats chocolate bar, however, was a flop, unable to withstand the summer heat and melting away into obscurity.

In retrospect, the movie’s enduring appeal lies in its perfect blend of whimsy, wisdom, and wonder.

Mel Stuart’s documentary background brought a unique perspective to the film.

It ensured the film’s fantastical elements were grounded in genuine emotion and human experience.

As we look back on “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” it’s clear that its true magic lies in its ability to transport viewers to a world of pure imagination.

It’s a testament to the power of storytelling, where even a promotional tie-in can become a beloved masterpiece, cherished by generations.

And as Mel Stuart once remarked,

“The reason for the movie was to make a candy bar that’s last forever; the candy bar didn’t last too long and the movie lasted forever.”

— Mel Stuart, Director

Where are the actors today?

The doc also covers where the main actors are today:

  • Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka): Wilder continued to have a successful acting career, starring in other classics such as “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles.” He retired from acting in the early 2000s and passed away in 2016.
  • Peter Ostrum (Charlie Bucket): Ostrum chose not to pursue acting after “Willy Wonka.” He went on to become a veterinarian and works in upstate New York, specializing in large animals.
  • Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt): Cole continued acting and became well-known in the UK for her role in the TV series “Angels.” She also works as a fitness instructor and has a successful voice-over career.
  • Denise Nickerson (Violet Beauregarde): Nickerson continued to act for a few years but later became an accountant. She passed away in 2019.
  • Paris Themmen (Mike Teevee): Themmen had a varied career, including working in film production, starting a rollerblade business, and becoming a financial consultant. He is also known for appearing at fan conventions.
  • Michael Bollner (Augustus Gloop): Bollner did not continue acting and instead became a tax accountant and public accountant in Germany.

How weird is it that 2 of them ended up being accountants!?

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac, Daily Doc