Depp plays a much meaner candymanEveryone in my generation saw the first “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” when we were kids. But even though it’s one of the beloved films of my childhood, one screening of Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the new adaptation of the original story by Roald Dahl, makes it clear how inadequate the old movie is.
The classic tale concerns one lucky and four not-so-lucky children who receive a tour of Willy Wonka’s famous chocolate factory, which has been closed to the world for years. The lucky one is Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), a child living in cartoonish poverty with his parents and grandparents, and the unlucky ones are Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz) the glutton, Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb) the obnoxious gum-chewer, spoiled brat Veruca Salt (Julia Winter) and Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry) the television addict.
The latter four receive their just rewards at Wonka’s twisted factory, described in the book with typical Dahlian glee. Augustus falls into a chocolate river and is made into fudge, Violet chews a forbidden piece of gum and swells into a blueberry, Veruca falls down the garbage chute after trying to catch one of Wonka’s trained squirrels, and Mike is shrunk by a teleporter, only to be stretched into a paper-thin giant in the taffy-puller. Charlie, as the only kid left, wins the chocolate factory.
This film benefits from the incredible, bizarre imagination of one of the weirdest filmmakers of all time. The Oompa Loompas (all, eerily, played by Deep Roy) are tiny, deadpan showstoppers, and the world inside and outside the factory is delightfully off-kilter. But of course it’s the carefree and crotchety candyman, Willy Wonka, who’s the real star. And one just has to compare the two movie Wonkas to see what makes the new film work.
In the 1971 version, Gene Wilder’s Wonka may be a genius, but he’s not quite an insane genius. In fact, he introduces his factory with a flourish and a song and he decides on Charlie to inherit the factory with a loyalty test.
Depp’s Wonka, though he takes the same characters on the same tour through the same factory, is an entirely different person. He’s a disturbed and stunted savante whose years of isolation in the factory have made him unable to connect with other human beings, and the kids find him creepy, idiotic and cruel.
This Wonka is a typical Burton outcast. The film reveals Wonka’s childhood as the son of a dentist, doomed to wear outlandish headgear and forbidden from eating candy. The flashbacks invest the tour with sinister, vengeful overtones. Where Wilder’s Wonka was simply an unsympathetic onlooker, Depp’s Wonka has almost certainly set deliberate traps for these children. But a Wonka with this many issues wants his own redemption.
I can’t help but feel this new adaptation would be far more pleasing to Dahl, a man who tested secret chocolates for Cadbury as a child and wrote his books as an adult on a typewriter balanced on his knees in a tiny house in the forest. The blunt schadenfraude of Dahl’s original story has returned, enhanced by the boundlessly imaginative Burton and stunningly brilliant Depp. But beware: this Wonka is not a nice man.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Comedy / English
by Ben Applegate
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