NK’s Cinematic Parallels – The Menu (2022) and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

willy wonka and the menu

Welcome to NK’s Cinematic Parallels, where the Negative Kitty ponders the striking similarities between well-known works of visual goodness!

Meowelcome and greetings, fellow movie buffs and foodies! Today, we’re embarking on a particularly appetizing journey. Join moi, le Kittie Negatois, as I discuss ze similaritois between culinary comedy-horror “The Menu,” and timeless classic “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory!”

The recent announcement of the Timothee Chala-Wonk film got me thinking more about the classic candyman character, and I couldn’t help but notice some major similarities between Wonka and Chef Slowik from “The Menu.” 

Lemme just get this right out in the open: the main thing in common between these two flicks is the rather demented psychopaths at the helm of each delicious death race. I mean, right? 

Let me break that down for you kittens. You’ve got two fellas at the top of the food chain in their respective fields of fine cuisine – Chef Slowik as a world-renowned chef in the highest tiers of restaurantation, and Wonka as the reclusive God-king of his own magical world of candy and… errrrr, let’s say… “helpers?” Yeah… don’t Google the original Oompa Loompa illustrations.

Both Slowik and Wonka started their lives as small-time street cats and clawed their way to the top, becoming cynical and even embittered by humanity along the way. As their successes piled up and their culinary skills reached perfection, they grew to resent the conspicuous consumption of their art. 

Now, many will remember Gene Wilder’s Wonka as a jolly eccentric and, while sarcastic and curt, not super “dark” or “resentful” – we’d typically reserve such characterizations for Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the character over 30 years later. While it’s true that Depp’s Wonka was more overtly dour, I personally feel that there’s plenty to Wilder’s portrayal to suggest that a deeply fricked-up fella lives underneath that top hat!

Both films start some time after each chef has decided that they’ll be retiring – and they’ve both decided that they’ll do so in a most splendiferous fashion. On one hand, you have Chef Slowik psychologically torturing, then killing, a dozen or so rich d*ucheb*gs. He then leads his entire kitchen staff of deeply devoted acolytes toward a mass suicide that would make Jared Leto jealous.

On the other hand, you have Wonka delivering bizarre and possibly lethal punishments to a handful of spoiled children, and rubbing their parents’ noses in the cruddy job they’ve done of parenting. When I was a wee kitten watching this flick, the scenes were so brutal to me that I pretty much assumed that all the kids d*ed and got m*rderkilled – Wonka quickly brushes over the fact that everyone will be returned to normal, so quickly that I didn’t quite believe him!

Both maestros touch upon similar concepts with their devilish trials, highlighting gluttony, greed, impatience, conceitedness and the like. Slowik’s salvo is more targeted toward the self-professed “elite,” while Wonka tests a broader code of moral and behavioral conduct, but if you look at the critical flaws of all the victims across the two films, it’s not hard to see the overlapping elements.

Slowik is fully homicidal. There’s no way for anyone to really “win” his game, and Anya Taylor-Joy’s Margot mainly lives because she and Slowik are cut from the same working class cloth – she was a paid escort to a yuppie d*uche, and wasn’t meant to be there in the first place. You’d think there’d be a divergence between the films here, as Wonka’s game is winnable, and the children’s crucial errors are all their own – however, there are several moments in the film to suggest that Wonka was well aware ahead of time that the children would succumb to their urges and suffer their punishments.

Take, for instance, the moment where Mike rushes over to zap himself into a tiny version of himself despite Wonka’s warnings. Wonka gives a half-hearted, almost eye-rolling “don’t, stop, come back.” When Augustus was drowning in the chocolate, Wonka surely could have thrown him a line of taffy to pull him in, but instead allowed him to be sucked into the pipe, lungs flooding with cacao. Veruca Salt and her father plummeted a long-ass plummet down that shaft, yo, and that’s a tricky one even for a pro stunt person with adequate padding!

Wonka laid these traps knowing that all these kids were gonna get wrecked. I’d argue that both chefs exhibit some signs of megalomania – I mean, these are top lads in their respective fields who decide to dole out a cleansing fire of punishment against those they consider to be at odds with their own personal worldview. They act as judge, jury and executioner – perhaps even God – in their own minds. Wonka didn’t really need to test the children in order to find his new successor, when, for a man of his intellect, a few simple interviews would have sufficed to weed out the bad apples. He deemed it necessary to subject the kids to terror and potential injury, when it was overtly clear from the beginning how sh*tty all of them were, save for Charlie. Similarly, Slowik revels in the punishment and despair of his dinner guests, and sees this grand execution + mass suicide ritual as his greatest work. Sounds like some major psycho sh*te to me, chief!

Some other parallels between the two films include the similarities between Charlie and Margot – two working class folks who genuinely deserve a come-up and stand in stark contrast to the rotten people around them; another parallel is the vivid cast of well-defined characters in each film, all of whom will forever be memorable to me in the “characters you love to hate” category.

Another parallel is the captivating visuals in each film – both movies serve up a feast for my widdle kitty eyeballz, although they do so using drastically different art direction. “Willy Wonka” whiskers you away to a whimsical candy wonderland where scrumptious gardens, chocolate rivers, and a variety of sugary attractions take center stage. The vibrancy of the visuals (and the sinister intent they mask!) craft a fantasy that’s both surreal and enchanting.

In contrast, “The Menu” transports us to the world of haute cuisine, where precision and elegance is key.  The meticulously crafted culinary nightmare nods at the restrictive nature of fine-dining, invoking a feeling of claustrophobia and tension – where “Wonka” showcases rainbow colors, creative shapes, and warmth, “The Menu” showcases a grayer & earthier color palette, harsh & rigid geometry, and a much colder overall feel. 

Which, yeah, obviously. We’re talkin’ kids’ movie vs horror movie.

I love “Willy Wonka” because it stands the test of time as an innovative flick, and invites interpretation even decades later. “The Menu” is a hilariously dark film with some of the most creative horror elements I’ve seen in a hot minute.

Now, which film is BETTER?

Well, one has John Leguizamo <3, and the other doesn’t. Nuff’ said!

Until our next cinematic escapade, my darlings – ta-ta!

NKmeow <3

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