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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

Once Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory came out in 2005, an argument erupted that I think will be eternal--which film is the better: Burton's or Mel Stuart's Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, from 1971? I like both of them, but there's something about Burton's film that hits me on a deeper level.

The basic story is the same: reclusive candy maker sends out five golden tickets, the winners getting a tour of the mysterious factory. The ulterior motive: candy man wants an heir. The source: Roald Dahl's book, which if you look at it a certain way is an angry old man's ranting against behaviors of types of children: gluttons, gum chewers, spoiled brats, and TV addicts. But Burton's film is more faithful to the book, and is much darker in tone, which I get a kick out of.

The key difference is the character of Wonka himself. Gene Wilder played him as strange, but essentially lovable. Like in the book, Wilder does nothing to help the kids when they get in trouble, and in that film we don't really know if they live (I preferred to think they don't). But he gets all soft and squishy when Charlie wins the prize, which many people like, and I do, too (I get a little teary at the end) but Burton thought it was too sentimental. What do you do when you don't like a movie? Make your own.

Interestingly, the film called Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is about Charlie Bucket, and the film called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is about Willy Wonka. This may be because they had a mega-star in the role, and if you're going to pay someone twenty million dollars you're going to use him (we don't see Wilder in the other film until halfway through). The conflict in the first film is whether Charlie will give Slugworth the Everlasting Gobstopper. This isn't even a plot point in the Burton film. Instead, the conflict is whether Wonka will reconcile with his father, the dentist (played by Christopher Lee). This backstory is not in the book, but seems like it should be.

Of course, Depp dominates the Burton film. He makes Wonka much more eccentric that Wilder, playing him like an idiot savant. But Depp gives the character many slight touches that I've come to appreciate (this played during my year as an usher, and when we had it I ducked into it constantly). Consider the look he gives James Fox as Mr. Salt when he lets him into the nut-sorting room to go after Veruca. Or the way he says, "That's just weird." Depp's Wonka is really a kind of a dick, which makes the whole thing much more menacing.

I also liked the musical numbers. Deep Roy plays every single Oompa-Loompa, and he's great in the dance numbers. The lyrics are straight from Dahl, and I can't decide if I like the Bollywood song for Violet Beauregard or the psychedelic one for Veruca Salt: "Veruca Salt, the little brute, just went down the garbage chute."

While I like both films, if I had to only watch one for the rest of my days I'd pick the Burton one. It's richer, more nuanced, and Depp is really amazing. No offense, Mr. Wilder, who does have a great scene when he tells Charlie, "You get nothing! You lose!"

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