Charlie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factories

One of the most inflammatory questions you can ask is which of the two movie adaptations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl is superior.

OK, not really, but it’s still pretty controversial. Both Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) have their ardent fans and their detractors. Probably the most polarizing thing about either is Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the chocolate maker extraordinaire Willy Wonka in the 2005 version, so I’d like to get it out of the way at once. Some people find this take on the character entertaining or at least interesting. Others, even some who love the rest of the movie, can’t stand it. I’m firmly in the negative camp on this issue. Unlike some though, I don’t find Depp’s Wonka too creepy. I just think he’s horribly annoying! To be fair, as a fan of the source material, I was never going to be a fan of the way this adaptation, despite its reputation as the generally more faithful of the two, deconstructs the character’s reclusiveness and lack of empathy, making him a socially stunted manchild.[1]He’s arguably a manchild in the book too, but not a socially stunted one. But the high-pitched voice and irritating mannerisms Depp gives him make the script worse than it had to be.[2]To be fair, Roald Dahl describes Willy Wonka’s voice as “high and flutey.” The movie aims for cringe comedy with this characterization, but it mostly comes across as cringe.

Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka, on the other hand, is usually considered the best thing about his movie. I don’t really like it either though. I can understand why the super hyper character from the book might have come across as annoying, but was it really necessary to go so far in the opposite direction and have him be so aloof and brooding? Both Wilder and director Mel Stuart seem like they’re trying to fight the goofy nature of the material and be all poetic and Romantic.[3]I wouldn’t say Roald Dahl was incapable of being poetic, but he wasn’t trying to be with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And, honestly, I find his voice and mannerisms a little bit annoying too, though not as much as Depp’s in the 2005 movie. Maybe it’s seeing one particular image of him being memed.

On to less controversial stuff. Both adaptations actually make a number of the same decisions. Both begin with opening credits montages of chocolate being made. Both have the five children to win an exclusive tour of Wonka’s factory be from different countries. They even have them come from the same countries. Augustus Gloop (Michael Bolner in 1971; Philip Wiegras in 2005) hails from Germany, Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole in 1975; Julia Winter in 2005) from Britain and Violet Beauregard (Denise Nickerson in 1975; Anna Sophia Robb in 2005) and Mike Teavee (Paris Themman in 1975; Jordan Fry in 2005) from America. In what country young hero Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum in 1971; Freddie Highmoor in 2005) lives is ambiguous.[4]He and some of his family members speak with English accents in the more recent movie but he uses American currency. Both make it so that only one parent of each winner accompanies them. This has a downside as a lot of the book’s comedy came from the contrasting personalities of Mr. and Mrs. Gloop (Kurt Grobkurth and Ursula Reit in 1971; Harry Taylor and Franzika Troegner in 2005) and Mr. and Mrs. Salt (Roy Kinnear and Pat Coombs in 1971; James Fox and Francesca Hunt in 2005.) But it allows them to develop the individual parent characters and their relationships with their children in a way the book didn’t. Both movies also expand on the climax by giving Charlie a final test of sorts where he proves his worth just as the four not so lucky golden ticket winners prove their lack of it. I’ll just save my opinion on that for the end.

Both movies also have some of the same virtues, mainly fun, quotable dialogue and, aside from Wonka at least, good casting. In many ways though, they have individual, even contrasting, pros and cons. The 2005 movie makes the Bucket family’s poverty more ridiculously over the top. This does a better job of establishing the goofy and fantastic nature of the story than the 1971 movie, which arguably comes across like a serious portrayal of a disadvantaged kid initially. On the other hand, that arguably made it more emotionally engaging.

David Kelly’s Grandpa Joe in Charlie looks far more aged and decrepit than Lou Albertson’s in Willy Wonka, making the moment when he finally rises from bed much more impressive. But the latter comes across as more of a fun character and has a more palpable bond with Charlie. Still, it’s nice that the 2005 movie gives the other grandparents more personality than the book did. The 1971 movie actually gave them less. In particular, Grandpa George and Grandma Georgina (Ernst Ziegler and Dora Altmann there; David Morris and Liz Smith in 2005) were obviously just present because they were in the book, not because the movie had any idea what to do with them.

The first act of Willy Wonka is rather slow, packed as it is with brief scenes showing the desperate worldwide search for the golden tickets. Most of these are really funny. Charlie’s schoolteacher, Mr. Turkentine (David Battley) and the bit with the computer program are particularly great. And the slower pacing arguably helps get us invested in Charlie’s plight. But it could also be described as overindulgent. While Roald Dahl’s book included anecdotes about people across the globe trying to find a ticket, they were confined to Chapter 6 and lasted a couple of sentences at most. The faster pacing of the 2005 Charlie arguably captures more of the book’s sprightliness. Still, I wish it had, like the previous adaptation, taken more time to show the wonders of the factory that weren’t necessary to the plot. Screenwriter John August has kindly made the script available to read online, two drafts of it actually, and it’s frustrating to learn that the Square Candies That Look Round were going to be included but were cut.[5]A screenplay for Willy Wonka (1971) is also available online. It’s an early draft that in some ways is better than the final one and in other ways was improved upon by it. Annoyingly, … Continue reading

The 2005 movie features a number of fan-pleasing things from the book that were cut or changed from the 1971 version. Charlie’s father (Noah Taylor) is present, and the adaptation even comes up with a clever way to connect the loss of his job with the main plot. The irrelevant but entertaining story of Prince Pondicherry (Nitin Ganatra) is included. Best of all we get Wonka’s nut sorting room with the trained squirrels for which they simply didn’t have the special effects in 1971. Instead, they had the much less interesting geese that laid golden chocolate eggs, which couldn’t very well toss Veruca Salt down the garbage chute, so she sang the most pointless of the movie’s musical numbers, I Want It Now, not about how she wanted a goose specifically but just about how she wanted random stuff, and just happened to stand on the “eggdicator”, which dubbed her a bad egg and dumped her. In 2005, Veruca was found to be a bad nut by the squirrels as it should be.

Except maybe it shouldn’t have been. Because the comeuppances of Veruca, Augustus, Violet and Mike somehow aren’t as fun and satisfying in the 2005 movie as they are in the book or the 1971 film. While they’re as unlikeable as you could wish, it’s not fun to watch a kid desperately screaming for their loving parent to help them while said parent can only stand by helplessly. It feels a bit like something from a horror movie but it’s too goofy and not actually horrific enough to work as a good horror movie. It’s just weirdly dark and unpleasant.[6]Some would say director Tim Burton’s movies are generally like this, but I wouldn’t say all of them are. Corpse Bride, which is also from 2005, I consider a very fun film. And, of course, … Continue reading This criticism may sound bizarre, but I wonder if the young actors are too good, making their characters seem like real people rather than the caricatures they’re meant to be.

I can already hear a lot of people protesting that Roald Dahl’s children’s books are dark and creepy…but I’ve honestly never found them to be that way. That’s in part because I never really believed in them. While Dahl is commonly compared to Charles Dickens and not without reason, his characters lack the solidity, for lack of a better term, of Dickens’s.[7]Of course, this is subjective but it’s worth noting that every Roald Dahl movie adaptation makes the story more serious and emotional than the original book. Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. … Continue reading Death never feels like a reality in Dahl’s kids’ books as it does in some like The Chronicles of Prydain, The Chronicles of Narnia or Charlotte’s Web. (For the purposes of simplicity, I’m only going to discuss his contributions to children’s literature here. His adult books are darker as far as content goes, though some of them of what I’m writing about tone applies to them too.) If any character is going to die in a Roald Dahl kids’ book, you know it’s going to be someone the reader hates and whose demise will be entertainingly creative. When innocent characters, like Charlie, James or Matilda, suffer, that’s part of the fun as the reader knows things will turn around for them eventually. And the nastiness of the baddies is also part of the fun as we wait for them to get their comeuppance. Sure, when I first read about Augustus going up the pipe to the fudge room (through his own fault) and the Oompa Loompas song implying they planned it, I worried something sinister was afoot, though I was also highly amused.[8]I can’t really explain what makes it funny without quoting a large chunk. But as the story went on, I forgot to be worried and began to look forward to seeing each bratty tourist get what they deserved.[9]It helped that while Augustus was simply grotesquely gluttonous, Violet, Veruca and Mike were boorish and rude as well. And that at the end of the book and, for the record, the 2005 movie, we see … Continue reading Dahl’s works were more cynical than traditional children’s literature, but it was always a cheerful surface cynicism that was partly tongue in cheek. At his most mature[10]Again, leaving his actual adult literature out of the discussion., his edginess was the edginess of a mischievous dad telling bedtime stories to his kids and trying to titillate them. At his least mature, it was the edginess of a fourth-grade class clown using or alluding to dirty words.

Theoretically, the cynicism of the 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is also light and humorous, but there’s something oddly grim and joyless about the execution. I can’t put my finger on it but it’s there. The opening credits make the chocolate factory look ominous and menacing which is a big problem. How are we supposed to get invested in Charlie’s wish to see inside of it when the movie keeps implying that it’s dangerous?

Watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), it’s hard not to wish it had been made in more modern times. It was so limited in bringing to life many of the book’s fantastical images, such as the great glass elevator or Violet turning into a giant blueberry.[11]It’s a pity neither of these Chocolate Factory movies was entirely animated. I feel like only a cartoon can capture the book’s exuberance and create the detachment necessary to enjoy the … Continue reading These were all topped by the 2005 movie, which was also more visually interesting than the older one. But they also arguably show the downsides of CGI. Not only do none of the tourists, except for Charlie and Grandpa Joe, feel comfortable with Willy Wonka but none of them, including Charlie and Grandpa Joe, seem that impressed by the factory’s wonders. (Of course, that’s the point with the jaded and cynical Mike Teavee, but he should be an exception.) This is problematic since the story is supposed to be about Charlie falling in love with the place. It’s instructive to compare this to the movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which is also came out in 2005. The child actors in it do a much better job of looking awed by the world of Narnia and they’re just supposed to be reacting to a snowy wood, not a giant waterfall of melted chocolate!

If you click on the “musicals” tag at the bottom of this post, you’ll find that I’m quite capable of enjoying them. But I really don’t get the idea, which was prevalent for some time and gets resurrected every now and then, that every children’s movie has to be a musical. There are kids out there who don’t like singing, you know. And when the musical numbers aren’t actually good, or even if they’re good but don’t fit into the movie’s pacing, they can be a pain. I know there are some people with a lot of nostalgia for the songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Two of them at least, The Candy Man and Pure Imagination, have become part of pop culture. I find them sappy and don’t think they really match the tone of the script. In particular, I wish the first one could have provided exposition about how Wonka could make non-melting ice cream and hot ice cubes for keeping drinks warm, which would have done a better job establishing the movie’s genre, instead of feel-good sentiments about wrapping rainbows in smiles. My favorite song is probably I’ve Got a Golden Ticket. My least favorite is Cheer Up, Charlie. Even a number of Willy Wonka fans will agree with me on that one. It’s one of the main reasons I called the movie’s first half overindulgent. Since the tunes for these songs are also the main musical themes of the score, I don’t like it much either.

Of course, the book had songs sung by the Oompa Loompas and it could be the filmmakers felt it would be weird to just have those without the whole movie being a musical. In that case, it was arguably a necessary evil since the mischievous/moralizing poems are a big part of the book’s appeal-not that the lyrics in the 1971 movie draw from them. The four Oompa Loompa songs by Danny Elfman in the 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are directly adapted from them to its credit. The first time I saw the movie, however, I found the tunes irritating. Repeated exposure has happily made me kind of like them. Well, some of them at least. The one that’s a punk rock song still annoys me.[12]In this adaptation, each Oompa Loompa song that plays for one of the bratty kids’ departure has a different style that corresponds to said brat’s milieu. Augustus Gloop, who is led around … Continue reading I think the real problem was the decision to give the Oompa Loompas goofy chipmunk voices, which makes sense in theory, but it isn’t always candy for the ears. I dislike the soundtrack’s weird and edgy main theme for reasons which should be clear by now.

Now I’m going to discuss the different subplots these movies add to beef up the story’s climax. If you haven’t seen either one and wish to avoid spoilers-or if you haven’t read the book itself-just skip to this post’s closing paragraph for my overall thoughts. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) has a man claiming to be Arthur Slugworth (Gunter Meisner), Wonka’s biggest candy making rival, approach each golden ticket finder and offer them money if they’ll get him the prototype for Wonka’s newest creation, the Everlasting Gobstopper. Credit where credit is due, this is the best idea for making the story more suspenseful in either adaptation. Where it goes from there works less well. In the Fizzy Lifting Drinks room, Charlie and Grandpa Joe partake of treats Wonka forbade them with nearly disastrous results. Unlike the other tourists who did this, they manage to escape, but at the end of tour, Wonka angrily tells them that Charlie will not receive the promised lifetime supply of chocolate since he broke the rules and violated the terms of the contract he signed earlier. (Gene Wilder’s performance in this scene is much more intense than anywhere else in the movie, apart from the infamous Tunnel sequence, to the extent that it’s kind of awkward and uncomfortable to watch.) Grandpa Joe wants to give the Everlasting Gobstopper Charlie was given as a souvenir to Slugworth as payback, but Charlie refuses and returns it Wonka, who then reveals that the entire thing has been a test of character arranged by himself and that he is leaving the factory to Charlie, etc.

Part of the appeal of the book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is that it taps into the appeal of traditional fairy tales without using any of the surface trappings, such as witches, fairies, princes or princesses. Charlie is basically the downtrodden youngest sibling whose virtue triumphs and who is rewarded in the end. The other four children are the relatively better off older siblings whose vices lead to their downfall. Having Charlie make the same mistake that they do breaks the pattern and mars this. Perhaps if the others were shown to have a few good qualities just as Charlie is shown to have a few faults, the story would work as its own thing even if it weren’t quite the book’s story, but that’s not really what they do.[13]Veruca does express concern for Augustus at one point, so I guess there’s that. And, all questions of morality aside, I don’t buy that either Charlie or Grandpa Joe would be stupid enough to do this after seeing what happened to Augustus and Violet after they ignored Wonka’s warnings. True, they establish that Joe hates how much stress Charlie has in his life and wants to encourage him to have fun. But they also have Joe call Violet a nitwit for not listening to Wonka about the experimental chewing gum. It really feels like the movie is forcing this on the characters to make its plot work.[14]The stage adaptation, Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, actually has Charlie admit of his own accord that he sampled the Fizzy Lifting Drinks and say he doesn’t deserve the lifetime supply of … Continue reading And it feels a bit lopsided that Charlie gets a chance to redeem himself and the other kids don’t. Favoritism much, movie?

Roald Dahl never wrote any backstory for Willy Wonka for the very good reason that he’s supposed to be a mysterious character. But the 2005 film intersperses the factory tour with flashbacks of his childhood with his strict dentist father (Christopher Lee), who never let him have any candy, which led to them parting on terrible terms. Again, credit where credit is due, “tyrannical dentist won’t let his poor son have any candy” sounds like something Roald Dahl would write, though I doubt he would have gone for the redemptive ending the film gives the character. You see this trauma has left Wonka with such an aversion to parents[15]Which makes it odd that he would have the kids bring one of theirs with them on the tour, but I digress. that when he makes a present of the factory to Charlie, it’s on the condition that he leave his family behind. Of course, Charlie refuses and after a few weeks(!) of angst, Wonka seeks him out again to renew the offer. This leads to Charlie helping him reconnect with his father who turns out not to have been such a bad guy after all.

This may lead to a good message and the moment that reveals Dr. Wonka’s true feelings for his son is genuinely sweet, but it doesn’t connect to the main body of the story at all thematically and renders it padding.[16]A generous reading might be that the overly strict Dr. Wonka is meant to be a foil to the overindulgent parents of Augustus, Veruca, Violet and Mike and that Charlie’s parents are meant to be … Continue reading It also completely misses the point of Wonka’s character. If Charlie is the good youngest sibling in this fairy tale and the other kids are supposed to be the bad older siblings, Willy Wonka is the disguised fairy dishing out rewards and punishments. He’s supposed to stand outside morality so to speak. That’s why Charlie and Grandpa Joe show concern for the other ticket winners and he doesn’t.[17]Though it’s worth noting that in the book Wonka is much more apologetic and reassuring-at least he tries to be-to the Beauregard and Teavee parents than either of the chilly Willies are in the … Continue reading Having him need to learn a lesson of his own is all wrong. I don’t think either of the reimagined climaxes/final tests for Charlie really work but at least the one in 1971 still has Wonka be in control and at least Slugworth, Fizzy Lifting Drinks, and Everlasting Gobstoppers all come from the book though they don’t perform the same functions.

You may have guessed by now that I don’t really like either of these movies on the whole. But I honestly had a lot of fun revisiting them to prepare for this blog post. If a friend suggests we watch one, I’ll agree and find ways to enjoy doing so. (Well, not right now probably since, as I wrote, I just watched them, but someday.) I don’t think either of them quite understands the appeal of the book they’re adapting. When the 2005 one misunderstands it, it misunderstands it worse and when it annoys me, it annoys me worse than the 1971 version too. But I don’t wish to undervalue the real advantages it has over it. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) has been called a cult classic. I define a cult classic as something that’s not really good enough to be a classic but has too many virtues or is too interesting to be simply dismissed and forgotten. I think that’s a good estimation of both movies. If I persist in preferring the original book, maybe that’s appropriate since part of its message is that literature is superior to television.

“So please, oh please, we beg, we pray/ Go throw your TV set away,/And in its place you can install/ a lovely bookshelf on the wall.”

Bibliography

Dahl, Roald. (1964) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. New York: Penguin Books Inc.

willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-1971.pdf (scriptslug.com)

Charlie PINK.fdr (johnaugust.com)

References

References
1 He’s arguably a manchild in the book too, but not a socially stunted one.
2 To be fair, Roald Dahl describes Willy Wonka’s voice as “high and flutey.”
3 I wouldn’t say Roald Dahl was incapable of being poetic, but he wasn’t trying to be with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
4 He and some of his family members speak with English accents in the more recent movie but he uses American currency.
5 A screenplay for Willy Wonka (1971) is also available online. It’s an early draft that in some ways is better than the final one and in other ways was improved upon by it. Annoyingly, there’s one page missing and it’s one that’s vital to the plot.
6 Some would say director Tim Burton’s movies are generally like this, but I wouldn’t say all of them are. Corpse Bride, which is also from 2005, I consider a very fun film. And, of course, some of his movies actually tell stories where a dark tone is a must.
7 Of course, this is subjective but it’s worth noting that every Roald Dahl movie adaptation makes the story more serious and emotional than the original book. Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox seems to be the ultimate example of this, but even Danny Devito’s Matilda, which is one Roald Dahl-inspired movie that really nails the tone of its source material (though I prefer Steven Spielberg’s The BFG as an overall viewing experience) does it.
8 I can’t really explain what makes it funny without quoting a large chunk.
9 It helped that while Augustus was simply grotesquely gluttonous, Violet, Veruca and Mike were boorish and rude as well. And that at the end of the book and, for the record, the 2005 movie, we see that they all survived their misadventures albeit with side effects and the Oompa Loompas really were joking. The 1971 movie doesn’t show this and subtle changes to the dialogue imply that Wonka’s proposed cures might kill them, but the final reference to the characters suggests their misfortunes may be more redemptive than punitory.
10 Again, leaving his actual adult literature out of the discussion.
11 It’s a pity neither of these Chocolate Factory movies was entirely animated. I feel like only a cartoon can capture the book’s exuberance and create the detachment necessary to enjoy the “dark” parts. And Tim Burton actually has a couple of animated movies under his hat.
12 In this adaptation, each Oompa Loompa song that plays for one of the bratty kids’ departure has a different style that corresponds to said brat’s milieu. Augustus Gloop, who is led around by his most basic instinct, gets a primitive sounding tribalistic chant. The jaded and media saturated Mike Teavee gets an MTV-style music video.
13 Veruca does express concern for Augustus at one point, so I guess there’s that.
14 The stage adaptation, Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, actually has Charlie admit of his own accord that he sampled the Fizzy Lifting Drinks and say he doesn’t deserve the lifetime supply of chocolate. This strikes me as better dramatically speaking. The 2013 stage musical, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was supposedly based on the book but borrowed heavily from both movies, also had Charlie break a rule but with a positive twist. While Augustus can’t resist eating chocolate, Violet can’t resist chewing gum, Mike can’t resist watching television and Veruca can’t resist…anything, Charlie can’t resist inventing-which makes him the perfect successor to Wonka!
15 Which makes it odd that he would have the kids bring one of theirs with them on the tour, but I digress.
16 A generous reading might be that the overly strict Dr. Wonka is meant to be a foil to the overindulgent parents of Augustus, Veruca, Violet and Mike and that Charlie’s parents are meant to be perfect happy medium.
17 Though it’s worth noting that in the book Wonka is much more apologetic and reassuring-at least he tries to be-to the Beauregard and Teavee parents than either of the chilly Willies are in the movies.
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