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Gene Wilder Recaptures Childhood in AT&T Commercial

by Jane Boursaw, posted May 22nd 2010 3:46PM
AT&T Rethink Commercial, Gene Wilder, Pure ImaginationLife is hard! It's messy and complicated and nerve-wracking and unpredictable! But ... it's also joyful. Only most of the time, the joy gets overpowered by all the other stuff. Instead, it's hidden in little moments that make you go, yeah, I remember now. Life can be filled with wonder and possibilities and dreams.

That's what the AT&T 'Rethink' commercial does for me. I can be doing a million other things, but when Gene Wilder's voice starts singing 'Pure Imagination' from 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,' I stop whatever I'm doing, look at the TV, and become mesmerized by those child-like drawings springing to life in a busy city. That's exactly what AT&T wants me to do, and it's working, so props to them.

It's a simple message: Think back to your childhood, to the days that knew no boundaries, when anything was possible and your dreams could take you anywhere. I've posted the extended commercial below, and it begins with a cloud emerging from a window and raining down on a smiling flower that grows into an industrial area as a rainbow sweeps across the sky.

As a happy creature clomps through the streets, notice the little figures in the foreground on the windowsill -- two retro robots and a string of simple train cars. It's really subtle, the sort of thing you only see for a second and yet, it takes you right back to childhood in your subconscious. A green sea monster dives through the streets, a giant robot peeks into a laundromat, an alien wanders by, spotted fish paddle through an intersection, and a train whizzes around the corner. All happy, all joyful. Until...

The train smashes into an imaginary tunnel. Dreams are dashed! Creativity dies! Imagination is thwarted! And Gene Wilder's voice sings, "Want to change the world? There's nothing ... to it ..." Only we know that's not the case. Back to my first sentence: life is hard! We can't change anything! That's a ridiculous notion! All the paper figures become actual paper and start drifting sadly to the ground.

Then we see that poor guy on the bench. Man, he looks dejected. The life's been sucked right out of him, and all he needs is one little nudge to jump off that ledge and end it all. He's got his suit and tie on, his office stuff beside him, take-out coffee on the ground, long-ish hair that's neatly parted and combed. He's conformed to society and its awful, creativity-sapping crap, day in and day out. The narrator begins, "Remember when you were five? And anything was possible?"

The guy picks up what I presume to be a cell phone -- although we don't get a good look at it -- and the narrator says, "Happy fifth birthday again." Gene Wilder sings, "Come with me ... and you'll be ... in a world of pure imagination ... " as the guy begins to smile, a light shines on him, and the alien paper figure springs back to life and peeks over the building. Ahhhh ... creativity saved. Thank you, Gene Wilder. Thank you, AT&T.

(Follow @jboursaw on Twitter.)

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Eva M. Vargas

I like commercials that can actually let me associate the product with a song. This one does it. AND really gets to the heart of it all-- imagination at any age that is something we can all use and have, except for The Media Blog.

July 11 2010 at 7:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Bravo to the Advertising Company that came up with this!!!

July 05 2010 at 3:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I also love the song and would love to know if there is a CD with the song on it done by Gene Wilder. There is a CD done by Michael Feinstein called Pure Imagination and of course the song is on it. It is very very nice but I really like the sound and nostalgia that Gene puts into it. If you may know about a CD please let me know. Thanks

June 26 2010 at 12:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I absolutely LOVE this ad. It is so sweet and evocative and the little robot and alien creatures are adorable. I run to see it whenever it comes on, because there is always some little nuance you can catch each time. The song by Gene Wilder is PERFECT and I had forgotten where it came from until I looked it up just now. GREAT ad. Too bad I can barely figure out what it's for. The only thing I caught was ATT, so I that lead me to believe it was phone or technology related, but other than that, it's a mystery. But it's still a wonderfully imaginative ad, whatever it's for.

June 22 2010 at 2:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lettie Gene Speed

I absolutely love this commercial. It drove me crazy for a week trying to remember where the song came from and then it came to me. Wow, now I have just found out who is singing the "Imagination" song. When it comes on I sit down and just for a few moments relax to the music and hate it when it ends. I always stop what I am doing and listen. Now I cant figure out how they covered everything with the bolts of fabric.

June 03 2010 at 10:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The commercial and the song are nothing but a huge shit sandwich.

May 27 2010 at 11:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

wow, that's weird everyone likes this commercial so much. It's one of two commercials that I will actually go out of my way to avoid. Every time I hear the start of it, I start yelling at the top of my lungs until I can get my hand on the remote to change the channel. I hate this commercial so much.

May 23 2010 at 11:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thank you SO MUCH for posting this! I've been trying to find out who sang that song and where I'd heard it before. It was buried somewhere in my memory banks but I just couldn't put my finger on it. I even tried a search online using some of the words but got nowhere. What you said about it is all true, it IS mesmerizing and I too, stop whatever I'm doing when that ad comes on because it really does remind me of those happier days when life was carefree and anything was possible.

Thank you for making my day, week and month, AND thank you Gene and AT&T for an amazing trip back in time!

May 23 2010 at 2:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The song is a really interesting choice for a mainstream audience that AT&T is going after.

But as a child of the 1970's, I really dig that funky weird fabulous movie. The song brings back some good memories.

May 23 2010 at 11:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Tool's comment

P.S. Love the commercial, but the cynical grown-up in me has to ask: Why Does my AT&T Coverage on my iPhone suck so much? I am not a 5 year-old anymore and I would like a grown-up big boy answer.

May 23 2010 at 11:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Phew! Glad I'm not the only one that loves this commercial. Every time I hear it it stops me in my tracks, I get goosebumps and lovely memories. Bravo AT&T!

May 23 2010 at 9:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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