The films in this debut “Original vs Remake” piece, are: the classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) starring Gene Wilder; and Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005).
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, made in 1971 and directed by Mel Stuart, feels like an afternoon film to watch with the family. It also indicated, from the title, that this is Willy Wonka’s story but in fact it is Charlie Bucket’s. In Tim Burton’s imagining of the story, the title is the original, but the movie feels the opposite as it’s more about Wonka than it is about Charlie. The story, which is the same in both films, is about an eccentric chocolate maker who had closed his factory for years after a spy tried to get in and steal his world famous chocolate recipes, but who one day announced that he’d be opening his doors to just 5 people lucky enough to find the 5 golden tickets hidden inside the packaging of his world famous chocolate bars. The winners are from Europe and America, four of whom are awful and one who is good. They are taken on a tour of the factory and one by one fall foul, with some of them reaching fates as severe as disfigurement as a result of not listening to Wonka’s simple but strict rules. The only one to (mostly) obey these rules is Charlie Bucket who is rewarded with Wonka’s factory by the man himself, who was actually holding the competition in order to find an heir to his life’s work. He invites Charlie and his family to live in the factory and everyone lives happily ever after.
The 1971 classic, as it is indeed a classic, follows this story roughly to a tee. The film is also a musical but actually only has a few songs, most of which are sung by the mysterious Oompa Loompas, the workers in the factory. It is in Gene Wilder’s performance as Willy Wonka that the film truly excels. In my opinion, his performance is simply perfect. As a comedic actor, he portrays the humerous moments with a sinister edge; exactly what the role calls for. The cast of children and parents are good, but don’t leave a lasting effect, meaning that once they meet their demise, they are easy to forget. You tend to remember how they disappeared, each in a more disastrous way, which brings focus to the story and the plight of its wonderful protagonists. The sinister factor in these disappearances are made worse when you realise that you never see the children at the end – I guess we were all too distracted by the Great Glass Elevator to care! A particular favourite scene of mine that questions the sanity of the factory owner is the trip on the Wonkatania boat through the tunnel. The strange images and singing from Wilder makes you think twice about the film being for children. In fact, having a film about children being mutilated or put in near-death situations could be seen as questionable, but with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, this uneasy feeling is subdued by music and different ways you can ingest candy. Unfortunately, the film does show its age and arguably feels somewhat dated. The typical 70’s family film feel is there but, as an adaptation, it lacks depth past Wonka’s exciting character.
Tim Burton’s version of Road Dahl’s beloved classic, made in 2005, was rather more in-keeping with the overarching and intertwining stories. For example, Veruca Salt, the little brat from London, does in fact end up in the nut room, unlike in the 70’s films where she is deemed a ‘bad egg’ in the chocolate egg room. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is also a brighter and more colourful film, though it still manages to show the darker side of the story. The Oompa Loompas sing their songs, but the characters point out that the songs sound rehearsed, as if they predicted these events would happen. It feels as if Willy Wonka planned the demise of the children, setting them up. He knows Augustus is greedy so he would be first to go. He knows that Violet could not resist new gum, that Veruca is spoiled and would demand something impossible, and he knows that Mike is just a mean child who would try anything related to technology. This last point is thin but also valid: the dark side and purpose to the Willy Wonka character is better played out in the Tim Burton film, but there are still several aspects of the film that don’t quite fit together. I’m referencing the added storyline about Wonka’s past, his difficult relationship with his strict father, a dentist, who despises candy and chocolate as it rots teeth. His father never agreed with what his son wanted to become, a chocolate maker.
The question of where the factory is in the world both infuriates and puzzles me – all of the inhabitants are obviously British, they even dress like they’re British. It might just be me who thinks this, but the British have a somewhat ‘down to Earth way of dressing’ that is slightly more reserved than those in other nations: jumpers, tattered coats and plain colours. So, they’re all British, but they have American words coming out of their mouths, like ‘candy’ and ‘dollars’. It’s not ‘candy’ it’s ‘chocolate’! I don’t understand why Tim Burton did this. Is this film set in an alternative future where America invaded the UK? Or is the factory and the town actually in the USA? It’s not quite clear.
Apart from the shiny and new look to Tim Burton’s film, the film does have an excellent cast. All the children play their parts to a high standard, as do the well-matched parents. Of course, Charlie Bucket is sickly sweet and Grandpa Joe is an enthusiastic old man, but there is one role I didn’t take to and he really was a deal breaker… Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka. He was a crazy character and no doubt played on the dark side of the story very well, but he came across as simply too weird and I could not empathise with him at all. Having detached himself from his father, Wonka seems to be a child in an adult body, and with added social issues. He plays games, says random things and does not want to be touched by any of the children or their parents.
I’ve read somewhere on a list of childhood films that the author believed Gene Wilder’s Wonka looked and acted like a serial killer and you wouldn’t leave your children alone with him. In my opinion, Johnny Depp’s Wonka had the serial killer tendencies and should in no way have be allowed to see the light of day. Wilder’s Wonka was how I imagined a Roald Dahl character to be. Wonka has a heart and is eccentric but he has a sinister side, like all Dahl creations.
Verdict: If the story hinges on pure loyalty to the original books, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would win this battle. Added Wonka father issues aside, the characters, story, mishaps, and even the songs fall in line with Roald Dahl’s story – it feels like the pages of the book have come to life. But, if this was about the film and just Wonka himself, Gene Wilder and his orange-faced Oompa-Loompas would win. Nostalgia is a powerful thing and can persuade people’s choices. The winner of this round is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.