Wednesday, December 13, 2023


This week, we get a new recycling of Roald Dahl's "Willy Wonka"—this time starring the ubiquitous TimothΓ©e Chalamet—but before we dive into that chocolate river, let us wade into the previous films of the subject matter.

Come with me/
and you'll be/
in a world of pure imagination"

Well, it's pure imagination on a very limited budget, but what folks remember about this beloved musical film are the script (officially by the book's author Roald Dahl, but amply aided and abetted by 
David Seltzer) and the performances—especially Gene Wilder's risky take on the titular candy-maker who may be a couple rice-krispies off plum. Despite the meager budget (which was financed to promote a line of candy that never materialized) the ideas behind it are more than enough to keep audiences young and old entertained (and featuring mostly great songs from Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley including the evergreen "The Candy Man" as well as the most avaricious of all musical "I Want" songs).
In it, the mysterious head of a chocolate factory (Gene Wilder) holds a world-wide lottery—five golden tickets are hidden in the large Wonka chocolate bars. The possessor of said ticket is given an escorted tour of the wondrous (if very secret) factory by Mr. Wonka himself. The winners turn out to be four very entitled brats and one impoverished lad. The factory itself is a wonderland of confectionery delights (even if it does hold some dangers, besides the obvious ones of brain-freezes, weight-gain, and acne) and is worked by a third-world staff of the diminutive Ooompa-Loompa tribe...and the motives of the CEO are very suspect.
It's smart for both kids and adults, with only one draw-back—I tend to held out to the lobby for a smoke whenever the saccharine song "Cheer Up, Charlie" starts to extrude from the screen. Saccharine and chocolate do not mix.
A combination of comedy and kid-horror, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is wonderful...and semi-sweet, but never bitter.
Gene Wilder insisted on this entrance to give Wonka an edge...
"From that time on, no one will know if I'm telling the truth..."
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Tim Burton, 2005) This was a bit of a career-rebound for director Burton on a relatively "safe" project, more in tune with his sensibilities than his previous "re-imagining" of Planet of the Apes.  
Charlie... is not so much a remake of the earlier Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory so much as a deconstruction/reconstruction that actually stays a bit closer to the source material (despite the fact that Roald Dahl is credited with the earlier movie's screenplay, with a huge uncredited assist from David Seltzer). With far more budget than Wonka, and a bit more slightly impure Burton imagination (and without the burden of the more sappy Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse songs), this version, bloated though it is, is a bit closer to Dahl's sensibilities. Danny Elfman uses the author's original texts to create crazy Oompah-Loompah songs in different genres (Bollywood, '60's psychedelia) and performed by Deep Roy in a series of special effects extravaganza's
The story is basically the same, but there are two weak spots: a burdensome and rather unnecessary Willy Wonka origin story (though it prominently features the always welcome presence of Christopher Lee); and then there's the matter of Johnny Depp's performance as Wonka, which feels random, is more weird than funny, and (frankly) can't hold a candle to Gene Wilder's psychotic version.
One never gets the sense of danger that Wilder's candy-man radiated, but, in its stead is a selfish cluelessness and a chocolate wizard not particularly in control of his creations...or himself.
At least, it's better than what the studio wanted—they thought Wonka should be more warm and parental, a thought that horrified new parents Depp and Burton. "That's crazy!" Burton says "He's the worst person to be a parent!" 
He had it right. The big difference between the two movies is the characterizations of Wonka himself: in the Wilder version, Wonka is a master manipulator with an obvious game-plan, whereas Depp's is another Burton man-child-outsider trapped by his own obsessions, who only manages to socialize at the end. Somehow, I don't think that's what Dahl intended.
The Oompa-Loompas, all played by Deep Roy

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