Willy Wonka: Everything in this room is eatable, even I’m eatable! But that is called “cannibalism”, my dear children, and is in fact frowned upon in most societies.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
The 1971 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, titled Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (despite being more about Charlie), is a classic beloved by children and adults alike. Many, including Dahl himself, complained that the movie wasn’t close enough to the book. Thus in 2005 we got a remake of the movie. The result sadly couldn’t hold a candle to the original.
Much like the original, the story involves young Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) along with four other children winning a Golden Ticket, which gives them a tour of the mysterious chocolate factory owned by Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp). As the children go about the factory, they find themselves entranced by its many wonders.
The story follows the book more closely than the 1971 version and this is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand we see more of Wonka’s various magical creations with chocolate in the first half and it builds up very well. But once we see Wonka and enter the factory it loses its impact. We see a lot of the strangeness from this point but the magic vibe doesn’t balance it out. Wee see the magic but we don’t experience it. The movie also has its own share of deviations. We get a backstory involving Wonka’s past and to be frank it gets too heavy-handed at times. We see a little bit more of Loompaland though it doesn’t have much in the way of interest. However, it was nice that the movie specified that Wonka was looking for children as the winners, which is something the original did not do. The movie is also more Wonka centered than the original and this comes as a detriment. Though Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was more Charlie centered, it allowed us to generate a sense of mystery and fascination with Wonka while also giving way to the affect said mystery and fascination would have on Charlie. Here, the movie is so Wonka centered that there it doesn’t have much affect on Charlie.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the movie lies in its visual style. For one, Burton’s direction and cinematography for the movie knew how to exaggerate the various environments of this movie to make it look like a fantasy. The chocolate river in this movie actually looks like a river of chocolate you could eat and the Everlasting Gobstopper actually looks like candy. The factory itself actually looks like a real factory and Burton knew how to give it a sense of strangeness to its various workings. Towards the end we see Wonka reunite with his father after so many years. During this scene we see Charlie looking at a bunch of newspaper clippings regarding Wonka’s success. There’s no dialogue in this scene. Just the musical score and the headlines of each newspaper tell us everything we need to know allowing the moment to sink in.
Then there are the characters of the movie. Johnny Depp as Wonka is sadly quite awkward in his performance. The original Wonka had a disturbing and strange presence but also a friendly one. This Wonka is just disturbing and strange but with none of the friendly charm. Even though he invites the children to his factory he shows almost no interest in them. Sometimes his awkwardness could be funny through the way he worked off the characters but for the most part he lacked much in charm.
Then there’s the character of Charlie who was rather underdeveloped. Sometimes they make him out to be too perfect and too likable. They make him out as someone who can do no wrong and it feels too unrealistic even for a fantasy. The movie doesn’t do much with him and even though they show him to be a perfect character it really feels like the only reason he was picked as the winner is that he was the only one left at the end of the day and with nothing else to him there’s no real joy to him becoming Wonka’s successor.
In regards to the Oompa Loompas, although Deep Roy did well in playing just about everyone of them they have no real bizarreness to them that would tie into their species if one had never heard of them. Burton is a master of bizarreness so this is quite a pity that he wasn’t able to expand on the possibilities with something like this.
In regards to the other characters it was nice how the movie updated some of them for the times. Such examples include making Mike Teavee more of a technology whiz and Violet making her an all around champion striver. Stuff like this helps keep up with the times. But the main problem with these kids is the fact that there is no nuance to them. The movie goes out of its way to make these kids as unlikable as possible. The original made the children out to be bratty too but the way they acted still felt like in the vein of being a little kid.
Outside of the welcome song, which plays outside the factory, which is annoyingly catchy, the songs are done well enough. There’s a clever variety of musical styles the movie chooses for each Oompa Loompa song. As for the rest of the musical score Danny Elfman does a good job in giving a layer of unusualness in various environments.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an ambitious remake with a great score and visuals but in trying to stick to the book, loses a lot of heart. The movie does have a couple of fans and it’s not horrid but it struggles to stand on its own two feet.