Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Sunday 24 July 2005This is nearly 18 years old. Be careful.

I just saw the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. Long time readers will know that I have strong feelings about the book.

First let me say, I liked this movie very much. I was charmed by it even as I was lamenting its flaws.

Comparisons to the first movie are inevitable. I liked that they kept more of the first half of the book, especially the stories about the Indian prince from Pondicherry (who has an entire palace built of chocolate), and the origin of the Oompa-Loompas. Neither movie found room for my favorite joke from the book, the square candies that look round.

The two biggest problems with the movie centered on Wonka himself. First, Johnny Depp plays him as a neurotic wimp who dresses and talks like Tootsie. He also seems to revile children. In the book (and first movie), he is repulsed not by children but by repulsive children. Then, perhaps to prop up this strange reading of the character, Tim Burton felt the need to give him a back story, a typically dark Burtonesque affair with a menacing strict orthodontist father. The whole thing seemed superfluous and out of place.

I think the character of Willy Wonka works just as the book had him: unexplained, and unattached. Santa Claus doesn’t need a back story, why should Wonka? Let us marvel at his energy and his creativity, and leave the explanations out of it. As involved as his silly family history got, it didn’t explain much anyway. If he had suffered under a terrorizing father, wouldn’t he feel more sympathy for children, rather than less? In the end, the whole thing dispersed like a bad dream with a simple hug anyway.

To make room for the scary orthodontist, they had to trim scenes which deserved more screen time, such as Wonka’s revelation that he’d be giving the factory to Charlie. Both of these tendencies (to over think Wonka, and to rush the genuine emotion) seem like classic Burton. I wish someone with a more child-like sensibility could have made this movie.

Except for the Wonka family history, this movie kept the story very close to the book. They added the fact that Grandpa Joe used to be an ex-worker at the factory. They had Mr. Bucket lose his job (which removes the reason why Grandpa Joe went to the factory). And of course, the ending got all twisted up with Wonka and his neuroses, but I like what they did with the Buckets at the end anyway.

All in all, I liked the movie. The children were appropriately repulsive. Even the silly gag from the trailer of Wonka bonking into the screen works in context. And it is a great story to begin with, no matter what movie makers may do to it. So go see the movie, but don’t overlook the book too.


Actually, Mr. Bucket lost his job in the book and was trying to make money shoveling snow. That's why they were all slowly starving. It never really made sense that Grampa Joe went (perhaps Mr and Mrs Bucket were on survival mode and didn't realize that this was more than a fun excursion for Charlie). I always felt a little ticked at him for lying in bed all that time and then getting rewarded for it.

Be that as it may, the actor who played Grampa Joe was delightful (as was the whole Bucket family for that matter...I loved waiting for Gramma Georgina to speak).

I didn't mind the backstory, but Johnny Depp was like a paranoid-schizophrenic housewife on a lot of prosiac. There was nothing really Wonkish about him, but he was bizarrely like Carol Channing. I kept expecting him to do something psychotic.
Me and my wife saw this just this past saturday night. I have to say, I went in with high expectations, and was not disappointed, although she was, but liked it anyway.

Maybe Depp's take on Wonka wasn't what you might think the character really is, but that is the beauty of adaptations. There are two important types of movies made from books (or shows, graphic novels, older movies, etc.): translations and adaptations.
Translations try to bring the original to a new medium, while adaptations try to bring the idea to a new presentation. You can't realistically judge or comment about the relationship between the movie and the book unless you do so in the context of whether of not it was intended as a translation or an adaptation.
Although I was surprised about the inclusion of a backstory for Wonka, I really like how it was done.

The oompa-loompas were great, if a little creepy in a clone-ish sort of way. I did miss the overly creepy tunnel scene from the first movie (wouldn't have worked with the new Wonka character, of course), but the dolls in flames made up for it. Also, I wanted to note that he was really not repulsed by all the children, but only by the repulsive ones. He just didn't wait for a reason to know they were repulsive, they were obvious in their personalities from the get-go.

I should probably mention that the Burton-Depp team is probably my favorite pair in the movie industry, and that being unreasonably excited over not one, but two movies coming out from the two of them this year, my opinions could be skewed. However, they aren't, I just really liked this movie.

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