Reviews: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

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.