Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Take Two: Willy Wonka/Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I struggled with whether to make this one a book-to-film review or a Take Two review because each one would be equally valid. I ultimately decided on a Take Two because 1) most of my movie comparisons have to do with which one I feel is closer to the book on this one and b) most people have never read the book anyway. Maybe this will inspire you to do so, you uncultured swine.

By the very nature of the review, there will be spoilers.

The Plot:

Mysterious recluse and confectionery genius Willy Wonka makes, without doubt, the most wonderful, most amazing candies in existence. So amazing that other candy manufacturers have had spies trying to steal his candy recipes for years. Wonka eventually lost faith in his workers and locked himself away in his factory, seemingly all alone for ages. But then one day, without warning, the factory started up again. Candy was still leaving the factory, but oddly enough no one ever enters or leaves the factory. The candy, it seems, is made by magic. People speculate about what goes on in there, but speculate is all they'll ever be able to do. Until one day...

Wonka issues a press release that he is hosting a contest. Five golden tickets have been hidden in five ordinary Wonka bars and shipped out across the world. For the children who are lucky enough to find these tickets, a wonderful prize awaits them: a personal guided tour of the factory by Wonka himself, a lifetime supply of chocolate, and one very special prize, given to one very special child.

No one would like one of those tickets more than little Charlie Bucket. His family, consisting of mom, dad (at least in the remake) and two sets of bedridden grandparents barely have enough money to put watered down cabbage on the table, let alone buy something as luxurious as a chocolate bar. That only happens once a year, on Charlie's birthday. Fortunately, said birthday is just around the corner. And with 4 of the 5 tickets already snapped up, Charlie's odds of finding one are dwindling fast.

Of course, you know he gets one. The book wouldn't have been called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory if he didn't. Matter of fact, as far as the book goes, the ending is rather predictable. You know the very special prize is going to Charlie almost from the moment he's introduced. For one thing, as I've said, his name is in the title of the book. For another, out of all the children who find tickets, Charlie isn't the only one who isn't a royal brat. But for the sake of this review, let's take a look at the competition, shall we?

Augustus Gloop: German, chocoholic, future competitive eater (trust me on this one)
Veruca Salt: British, extremely wealthy, "instant gratification" in her middle name
Violet Beauregard: American, loudmouth, overachiever
Mike Teavee: Also American, television enthusiast and general smart-mouthed know-it-all
And then of course, there's kind, angelic, sweeter-than-a-chocolate-river Charlie:
Seriously. This kid will give you more cavities than an entire truckload of Scrumdiddlyumptious bars
As though this was some sort of horror flick, the kids get picked off one by one, usually due to their own vices. The whole thing is basically a cautionary tale to parents on how they raise their kids and a personal injury lawyer's dream come true. Since both films have slightly different endings, however, this is where we split the difference.

The Original- Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

The Good:

This film is heralded by many people as a classic. The acting is decent, especially Peter Ostrum as Charlie (the only movie he ever played in, interestingly enough. He's currently living a quiet life as a veterinarian.) He makes Charlie seem like more of an actual kid than the Charlie of the book was. Jack Albertson's Grandpa Joe is a bit more ornery than the Grandpa Joe in the remake which I do think is a bit cute. The set design is rather whimsical and looks like it was designed by a child. It has several delightful songs that give it a Broadway sort of feel to it...

The Bad:

Except that one song. You know the one I mean. That "Oopma Loompa Doopity Doo" song. I probably wouldn't have minded if they played it once. But they play it every single time one of the kids gets voted off the island, so to speak. Sometimes the lyrics don't even make sense. Suggesting that kids read a book just because there are no commercials? Yeah, can't use that reasoning anymore. Hello, Netflix! Couldn't come up with a better reason, like exciting the imagination? But I digress. The chocolate river looks more like sewage water than actual chocolate. I'm still not sure why Oompa Loompas are orange with green hair (but then, it *was* the 70s!) and the factory doesn't really look like much of a factory. There are very few actual machines producing anything. It's more like a giant playroom conjured from the mind of a demented man-child. Which brings me to...

The Ugly:

I know I'm gonna get hate for this. But Gene Wilder's Wonka freaks. Me. OUT. Seriously. Tell me this doesn't look like the face of a serial killer:

It *might* have something to with the fact that before I saw Wonka, I saw Young Frankenstein. But what's also disturbing is the fact that he seems to know beforehand exactly what's going to happen to each kid, does nothing to stop it, and we never see any of those kids again. Chocolate factory? More like torture factory, amiright?

What also disturbs me is the infamous boat trip scene. Emphasis on "trip". It is perhaps one of the biggest "Big Lipped Alligator Moments" in cinema history. (Be warned when you click on the link: once you start reading TVTropes, you never come back. So save it till after the review, m'kay?) It's creepy. It's gross. And it's completely unnecessary. Watch if you're ok with losing sleep.

Well, I dunno about you, but I'm never going through a tunnel again.

My other big problem with this is the whole Slugworth subplot. It was nowhere in the book, and frankly, it makes both Charlie and Wonka act ludicrously out of character. It detracted from the overall whimsy of the story and I really could have done without it. That being said, the book itself is so straightforward and predictable, I suppose they had to do something to up the conflict a bit.

The Remake- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

The Good:

The set. Holy cow, the set! I can't remember the last time I saw a movie set I wanted to eat. The chocolate actually looks like real chocolate (mostly because it was, donated courtesy of Nestlé, who actually owns the Willy Wonka Brand) and nearly everything on the set was actually edible to some degree. The performances of the children are spot on. They often get critiqued as being cliche, but you kinda have to realize that the children in the books were themselves cliches. They were stereotypes of the kind of children author Roald Dahl couldn't stand. Really the main thing I like though, is how much closer this film is to the book. For one thing, four out of the five musical numbers are the actual songs from the book (yes, the book had songs in it!) and I love the treatment Danny Elfman gave to them of making each one a successive decade (50s samba, 60s disco, 70s psychedelic, and 80s rock opera). They also included Mr. Bucket's job at the toothpaste factory, the story of the Indian Prince Pondicherry, and several other interesting moments from the original novel that appealed to my childhood nostalgia. I give extra kudos to actor Deep Roy, who played every single Oompa Loompa himself and had to be filmed over, and over, and over, and over, get the point. He probably had the hardest job out of anyone. Johnny Depp's performance is also a bit truer to the source material in terms of his childlikeness, energy, and aversion to children (an actual piece of Roald Dahl's personality as, even though he wrote children's books, he disliked the majority of children in general). Which kind of brings me to...

The Bad:

While I like Depp's performance as Wonka a bit better than Wilder''s still really awkward and uncomfortable. There are times when his immaturity becomes overwhelmingly annoying. Maybe the perfect Wonka lies somewhere in between the two. Until then, the imagined version I conjured while reading the book will have to do. The ending is an interesting twist on the novel, but as with the 1971 film, didn't need to happen and was probably only written to extend the drama as long as possible on the very predictable ending. Also, you will NEVER get this song out of your head. (You're welcome.)

The Ugly:

I found it odd that for a movie titled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory...there's very little Charlie in it. The focus is mainly on Wonka and his relationship with his father, who was created entirely for this film, and is a dentist of all things! It was a weird, crazy subplot that didn't need to happen. I don't understand it, it distracts from the main protagonist, and some parts of it (like Willy's entire house disappearing and being relocated in the middle of nowhere for no reason at all) make positively 0 sense.


Once again, I'm gonna have to go with the remake on this one. Only, this time, that isn't saying an awful lot. Each film had it's positives and negatives, and the remake only outweighs the original by a tiny bit. Which isn't to say I particularly hate either film. I'll watch them both again eventually, if only for the nostalgia (the original) or the literal eye candy (the remake).

And technically speaking, the 2005 version (directed by Tim Burton) isn't even a remake, since he'd never seen the 1971 version to begin with! His was a fresh adaptation of the original source material. Tim actually said that after he'd gotten the screenplay written, he went back and watched the 1971 version and thought it was even darker than his version. That's right. The original childhood classic that you love...darker than a Tim Burton film according to the King of Dark himself. Think about that next time you watch it.

Rumor has it that Roald Dahl was so upset at the original film, that he refused to watch it ever again after the premier and also refused to ever allow the sequel "The Great Glass Elevator" to be adapted for film. How would he have felt about the Burton version? Hard to say. He was a rather cantankerous old man, much like Wonka in that respect. I do think he would appreciate how much more faithful it was to his writings (evil dentist father aside), but would he have appreciated Johnny Depp as Wonka? The world will never know as Dahl died in 1990.

Perhaps the best version of the Wonka story is the one you imagine yourself as you read a well worn copy of the book in the comfort of your own (or your children's) bed. I know I've still got mine. 


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