ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Monday, February 22, 2016

Contract Issues in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"

Last weekend I watched, for the first time in my adulthood, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." The 1971 version with Gene Wilder. I've never seen the more recent version with Johnny Depp, but, after reacquainting myself with Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka, I ask you why you would ever need another Willy Wonka. Wilder is perfect. 

~~SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE BELOW~~(IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT, GO WATCH IT NOW, IMMEDIATELY. YOU HAVE SO MUCH TIME AND SO LITTLE TO DO. WAIT. STOP. REVERSE THAT.)

Because it was the first time I'd seen it since going to law school, it was also the first time I'd thought about it from the legal perspective. And, weirdly, contract law actually plays a central role in the movie. As soon as the children enter the factory, Wonka has them sign a contract.

 

Just the children, not their accompanying guardians, which is interesting to me, as I would have had everyone sign it. You'd think Wonka would be just as worried about the adults handing over Everlasting Gob-Stoppers to the competition, but then again, since the whole thing was just an elaborate set-up, I guess he didn't care. The only clause we can really see in the contract is a gigantic release from liability provision. The adult characters are instantly suspicious of the contract. They raise the argument that they need to read it before they sign it (an act which appears to be actually impossible, given the vanishing print at the bottom). Wonka sort of shrugs and says, "Eh, if you don't sign it, you can't come in." It seems to me like there's a good argument that there's procedural unconscionability showing up, given that Wonka's made it impossible to actually read the contract and is dismissive of their desire to know what they're signing before they enter the factory. Of course, the flipside to that is the flipside that almost always comes up when you talk about unconscionability: No one is forcing these people to tour the factory. They can walk out if they like. They don't have to enter the crazy Willy Wonka contract. 

The other issue raised by this scene is that the children are all minors, so this contract is voidable. 

(This scene also gives you the timeless assessment that contracts are "for suckers.")

The children all sign the contract, of course. (That would make for an interesting movie: Responsible Legal Decisions in Response to Willy Wonka's Craziness. Everyone turns and walks out instead of entering the factory run by the creepy guy no one's seen in years.) (Wonka really should be so much creepier than he is. I'm telling you, Wilder is genius in this role.)

Having signed the contract, they are let loose in the wonders of the factory, where they immediately proceed to get themselves grievously injured one by one, all taken in casual stride by Wonka, perhaps buoyed by his release from liability provision: 

 

The conclusion of the movie, once again, revolves around contract law. Charlie inquires as to the lifetime supply of chocolate he's supposed to receive, and Wonka points out that he's no longer entitled to it because he breached the contract he signed at the beginning. Wonka quotes the contract, and my main reaction to it is to shake my head and say, "All those Latin words! All those hereinbefores!" It's an excellent example of an incomprehensible contract. I propose we start calling all contracts filled to the brim with Latin and hereinbefores "Wonka contracts." And my second reaction is: That's another movie I'd watch: Willy Wonka in Law School.

 

(Random fact, but the actor playing Charlie apparently did not know that Wilder was going to yell so furiously in that scene. His startled reaction is genuine.)

Don't worry, if you haven't seen the movie, there's a happy ending.

 

One closing thought on Willy Wonka and contracts. I figure that there are two choices when it comes to Contracts classes: You're either the room of Pure Imagination...

 

...or you're the tunnel scene...

 

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/contractsprof_blog/2016/02/contract-issues-in-willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-.html

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Comments

Love it! I actually started my Contracts class showing some clips from Willy Wonka! Fun fun.

Posted by: Andrea | Feb 22, 2016 8:15:38 PM

Fun post. You're giving me all kinds of ideas for my students' next paper. :-)

Posted by: Marian Dent | Feb 23, 2016 1:51:36 AM

I love this article because it does what I like to do: comment on contracts used in movies or on television. A colleague and I wrote a Michigan State Bar Journal article about Bilbo Baggins's contract used in The Hobbit movies - here's the link: http://www.michbar.org/file/barjournal/article/documents/pdf4article2677.pdf

Posted by: Chadwick Busk | Feb 23, 2016 4:18:59 AM

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