(also Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971))

The Pure Chocolate Lure

I suspect Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” could have been truly enjoyable, if I didn’t watch the 1971 version “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” While the remake is more visually delicious, it lacked the wallop of whimsy the original whipped up. I’m not one of those avid fans of the first film that’s ready decry the remake. But it’s obvious which version offers a more golden ticket.

Both films, based on Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” is about the poor and good-hearted Charlie Bucket who’s lucky enough to be invited to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Along with Charlie are four other kids randomly selected from around the globe: the gluttonous Augustus Gloop, the gum-chewing Violet Beauregard, the spoiled-rotten Veruca Salt, and the TV addict Mike Teavee. All five children (accompanied each by a guardian) meet the legendary and eccentric Willy Wonka and tour his fantastic factory. However, such a heavenly place has no room for little devils. More or less, the place turns out to be sprinkled with moral contraptions.

The original film version has Gene Wilder playing Willy Wonka. He portrays the chocolate connoisseur as someone who physically and mentally lives in his own world. My favorite scene is where he sings “Pure Imagination.” It’s weird enough that he sings but he does it so seriously and heartfelt – the effect is strangely sublime. Along side Wilder, the kid actors are fun to watch too. This is probably the first time I enjoyed obnoxious kids on film; they were acted in cartoonish delight. You couldn’t wait for their downfall because they deserved it — and well, it’s when the wee workers Oompa Loompas sing and dance to teach us a lesson. (Why is it so hard to look away from these diminutive and entrancing creatures?) Overall, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is a confounding confection like a Wonka bar. We’re meant to enjoy it, not puzzled over its perfection.

The 2005 remake “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” might be of the same brand, but its taste is altered and its wrapper glossier. You can always count on director Tim Burton to serve interesting images on the screen. For example, the Buckett shack is built as vulnerable as the Leaning Tower of Pisa; it’s so impossibly tilted, a gust of wind might be its end. The Wonka factory isn’t only envisioned as a chocolate paradise; it’s a whole new world, astonishing in scope. (But I am more fond of the 1971 factory, since the inferior 1970s production values gives the film a stranger charm). Wearing the top hat this time is the versatile Johnny Depp. I think he was okay and I like that he’s game to amp the creepy factor. It’s disappointing though that his Wonka came across less human even if the screenplay gives him a back story. He’s capable of being mean, but inept in expressing warmth and affection. You can’t the say the same for Wilder’s Wonka.

The screenplay by John August is decent, though it is not as fun and witty as its predecessor. What worked is that August made the characters more distinct. Charlie’s four grandparents (who all occupy one big bed) are more distinguishable, unlike the prior movie. As for updating the material, the screenplay makes the children more disturbingly relatable. Violet isn’t just a gum-chewing cow anymore, her flaw is her extreme competitiveness. These days, it’s not hard to find children raised to “keep an eye for the prize.” With obese children fattening in numbers, the nation is sadly in heavy excess of Augustus Gloop clones. And spoiled Veruca Salts of the world never go out of style as long as there are hyped-up toys and gadgets to buy. Perhaps, my personal favorite is Mike Teavee (a wonderfully wry Jordan Fry) – a sardonic smarty-pants who can easily “mumble” a line or two to put the chocolatier on the defense. And I can’t forget Freddie Highmore, who is just perfect as the bighearted Charlie. What I liked about him is that while you hate to see the kid sad, you know he’ll be okay. To him, family is enough to be grateful for. Awww. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” might not be as deliciously sweet as the 1971 film, but it’s certainly the better bittersweet of the two.

Grades
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: B
Willy Wonka and the Choclate Factory: A+

CAST
Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Deep Roy, Christopher Lee
Screenplay by
John August
Based on the novel by
Roald Dahl
Directed by
Tim Burton
Rated PG for quirky situations, action and mild language
CAST
Gene Wilder, Peter Ostrum, Jack Albertson, Denise Nickerson, Paris Themmen
Screenplay by
Roald Dahl
Based on the novel “Charlie and the Choclate Factory” by
Roald Dahl
Directed by
Mel Stuart
Rated G all ages admitted, general audiences.
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