The iconic book was twice made into movies.
Roald Dahl’s books have entertained and entranced kids and their imaginations for decades. Several successful films have been made based on his works, but the most recognisable Dahl adaptation has to be the 1971 film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, based on his 1964 novel, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.
The story of a poor boy who, with the help of winning a golden ticket into the world’s most wonderful and bizarre chocolate factory, has all of his dreams come true is a staple in moviedom. The script for the 1971 movie was written by Dahl himself.
In 2005, director Tim Burton released his own take on the classic tale under the book’s title, keeping his story closer to the source material. Many of the changes the 2005 version made from the 1971 version were done to mirror the book. This version looks more into Wonka’s personal past and tackles the issues of his odd neuroses. The characters in the two film versions, especially the two central characters of Wonka and Charlie, are vastly different.
But which is truer to the source? And which is better?
We’ll look at Charlie first. The Charlie in the Burton movie better captures the innocence and purity of the character Dahl originally wrote. The one in the 1971 film still has that wide-eyed wonderment the character should inspire, but he also comes off as a whiny jerk at times. Remember when he tricked his entire family into thinking he’d won a Golden Ticket on his birthday? Plus, the actor’s lack of a singing voice nearly sinks the iconic I’ve Got A Golden Ticket song. …Nearly.
The other contest winners vary in terms of translation. Augustus Gloop is exactly the same in every version (not really much to alter there). Veruca Salt is always incessant and bratty, though in the Burton film, she does it more with puppy-dog eyes and passive aggression than the constant whining she puts forth in the 1971 version.
Violet Beauregard and Mike Teavee undergo more drastic changes in the remake. In 1971, Violet was a blabbermouth and Mike was into nothing but spaghetti Westerns; in 2005, Violet was a serial winner and Mike was into violent video games and mathematics. The updated versions of the kids was a really good idea, and it worked well with the change in times.
Mike’s character poses an odd problem, though: He seems too much like a normal kid at times. Sure, he’s always frowning and destructive, and he still deserves his comeuppance at the end, but because he shows glimpses of real intelligence, he seems like he could be redeemable. Charlie is supposed to stand out by being the only truly human character. The Burton film nearly loses it there.
Burton’s unique style also brings up some unique flaws in the story. The constantly dark environment and slanted architecture takes away the subtle creepiness of the story, placing it instead right smack in the forefront. Part of the genius of Dahl’s work was that, while everything that was written seemed whimsical and fantastic, actually thinking about what was happening to the children and to the world at large during the search for the Golden Ticket was rather disturbing.
For kids, it’s just a nice little fable; for adults, it can be a bit haunting. This kind of subtlety is more prevalent in the 1971 film, where the horrors are underplayed by the happy-go-lucky tones of the Oompa-Loompa songs and the general aloofness of Wonka himself … right up until the terrifying moment when the boat enters the tunnel.
Which brings us at last to the two Wonkas. The 1971 film had Gene Wilder, whose biggest role to this point had been in The Producers. Wilder’s Wonka is sarcastic, absurd and more of an adult than the Wonka in Dahl’s book, who more or less comes across as an overgrown child. But Wilder makes one forget everything about the original character; he is charming and witty, and though he plays a more toned-down version, you never forget his presence. It’s a defining role for him.
It being a Tim Burton work, the 2005 film of course casts Johnny Depp as the chocolate maker. He plays it with more of a childlike aura, but in a Michael Jackson sort of way, with awkward social skills and a very quiet personality. The movie makes the story more about Wonka’s journey toward accepting family than it is of Charlie’s rags to riches, and it just doesn’t work as well as the 1971 version.
Every time the story dips into flashbacks of Wonka’s childhood, the rest of the story has to grind to a halt to let Burton do his thing. And while Depp’s Wonka isn’t necessarily bad, after seeing what Wilder did in making the character iconic, it just can’t measure up.
So while the 2005 version’s plot might be truer to the book, the 1971 version captures its spirit, which is far more important. – York Daily Record/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services