Reviews: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

A New and Accurate Take Hampered by Nostalgia

The prime reason people don't like this film is because they're so used to the original and have memories associated with it. Viewing it more critically, I think this movie is quite good at accomplishing what it wants to.

For one, in terms of adaptation, it does a great job of capturing the mood of the book with a new vision but more of the original text (including Dahl's actual Oompa-Loompa songs instead of the annoying cookie-cutter tune in the original), and updates the story for modern sensibilities in some clever ways. The story is closer to the book in its turns and while I admire the original film's intentions to invent, I think the original story had it about right. Charlie is a good kid and the point is that he's not going to let his own disadvantages get in the way. No temptation comes into play. The story isn't about why Charlie is a good kid, it's about how parents can mess up a child, with him being the exception, the "control", to compare to the rest.

Also, the production. I feel the original film was hampered by budget and technology, because comparing the Chocolate Rooms to the book reveals the differences. In the original, it's obviously inside a warehouse and the chocolate looks like diluted paint at best. Here, it's more of an edible nature wonderland and the chocolate river looks rich and creamy and delicious. The visual style has all of Burton's relatable yet quirky and new design features that work so well for Dahl.

The updates are good, too. Gum-chewing is a nasty facet of Violet, but here, her true flaw is general competitiveness, fueled by a stage mom. Gum-chewing seemed like a really stupid thing for parents to encourage, anyway, so here, it's a better commentary. Mike is a violent gamer, now, which is definitely a real demographic, if not a universal truth.

And then...Wonka. How did this wonderfully eccentric madman turn into a creepy game show host? My question is...how didn't he? This kids' host and emotionally-stunted personality is exactly what we would equate with a weirdo recluse only just now entertaining again. It's a perfectly valid update, because the sort of loony-grandpa vibes of the original don't seem as alarming to us now, and Wilder's version was close to the book but addressed the problem with a more needlessly sadistic turn to be weird. Here, it's still a crazy maniac with unorthodox methods, just changed for our sensibilities, and without such obvious darkness. He's very different, but also very much in line with the intent of the character.

I don't think the backstory for Wonka was necessary, but it fits Dahl's writing well enough and a relatively harmless addition is better than a needless deviation.

Overall, please give this film a chance. It does a lot of interesting things with the story and I think its ideas are quite good when viewed independently.

Wilder Wonka is best Wonka

I could rant on and on about the style, story, characters, emotional torque, subtext, music and everything about Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - but what always struck me personally the most was Wonka himself, so I'll limit this review to him.

Johnny Depp is a brilliant actor. He adds an indefinable flavor to every character he portrays, and they all leave an impact long after the credits roll. When he played Wonka, though... meh. Depp's portrayal of Wonka was as an eccentric, whimsical, imaginative, one-flew-over-the-cuckoo's-nest child who never grew up and still suffers from the childhood traumas his father imposed on him. AND THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

When Gene Wilder played Wonka, you got all that and more. He was the dreamer, the artist, the imaginative little kid who managed to weave a dreamland of his own. But on top of that, you get so much more. Beneath his paper-thin delightful rambunctiousness, he's okay with psychologically torturing children and giving no explanation afterwards. When he's singing Pure Imagination, (a song that reveres imagination and worships creativity) he is contained, almost somber, as if he were barely concealing a deep cerebral depression.

Furthermore, Depp's Wonka was the light-hearted free spirit with daddy issues, but Wilder's Wonka was fucking DARK. We see the Chocolate Factory as a double-sided, duplicitous world of wonder and mayhem: where you can unleash not only your dreams but your nightmares, too. Wonka dedicated his life to erecting the Factory as a monument to his own psyche, complete with all the illusions, gizmos, and fantasy of childhood, but also the psychotic shadow in the back of all our minds that's secretly fascinated by sadism. With Wilder, we see the ups AND downs of insanity.

With Depp, a large percentage of the film is dedicated to unearthing why he loves candy so much. But with Wilder, you don't need flashbacks to his younger days to evoke that image. Even though we never see it onscreen, you can easily picture him when he was younger as the boy who dogmatically determined to make his dreams come true no matter what the world told him otherwise.

Wilder Wonka: the boy who never grew up that discovers that making your dreams come true isn't as emotionally satisfying as he thought it would be.

Depp Wonka: an eccentric.
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