Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


See, here’s the deal … Neither of us had seen Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, so we decided to rent it and watch it before we saw this. Underwhelmed. The music was insipid, the SFX were primitive, even for the time. Hated the Oompa Loompahs. Wondered if the ending was the one Roald Dahl wrote. So I decided to read the book.

Maybe I’d have loved it if I’d been the right age. There were good things in it, and I can see its appeal to a child. But it ain’t gonna go on my classic shelf.

Anyway, in a few weeks I had become something of an authority on chocolate factories, so I was curious to see this new version. Verdict: WW was very thin Nestle instant cocoa, made with skim milk; Charlie is the real double-fudge sundae with a cherry on top. In every way I can think of it is better than both the book and the original movie.

Take the Oompa Loompas. In the original book they were a race of pygmies, from Africa, who lived on horrible green caterpillars and were delighted to move in with Willie at his factory and eat scrumptious chocolate. Oopsa Loompa! Politically incorrect! In 1973 there was a nasty public debate between Dahl and Eleanor Cameron, another children’s author. He was pressured to re-write a few paragraphs, a few illustrations were changed, they became little white long-haired hippies. (And now the first edition, first state of the book goes for $5000, minimum.) I’m not going to get hot under the collar about that, except to state that I don’t approve of cleaning books up for whatever reason, any more than I’d like to see The Birth of a Nation digitally re-mastered so the Klan were … Nazis, say, or drug dealers. Who will you have to change them into next century? Non-vegetarians?

Anyway, Tim Burton neatly split the difference. Instead of employing 6 munchkins, he let one little brown guy (4’ 4”) named Deep Roy play all the Oompa Loompas. Hundreds of them. (And for once justice prevailed; he did so much work in the picture they had to pay him a cool million!)
Take the music. Anthony Newley was brilliant in Stop the World, I Want to Get Off, but other than that he’s not to my taste. I hated his songs. Tim Burton went back to Dahl’s original poetry, and let that crazy man, Danny Elfman, who has done some of the best movie scores in the last two decades, come up with the music, in four different genres, and hired some sort of genius Oompaographer (uncredited; Burton himself?) to make the musical numbers the real centerpieces of this flick, even better than the sets, which are Oompa Fabulous.

Take Willie Wonka. Gene Wilder is very good … at certain things. Willie Wonka is not one of them. Johnny Depp seems like he can take absolutely anything and make it his own. The part of Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean was written well enough, but it was his screwy performance that made it work. Here, I loved his every line, every twitch of his mouth. People have been creeped out by the resemblance to Michael Jackson, and it’s certainly there … but it is so, so clear that Willie is asexual, a child-man without the pedophilia.

Take the ending. I can hear the Wonka purists (Wonka wonks?) hollering that it was changed. It sure was … and I really disliked the ending of the book. This one worked for me. They added a sub-plot flashing back to Willie’s childhood, and it was funny and poignant and right. Which made the ending work in this movie, where it didn’t work in either the book or the first movie.
In short, we both loved this movie. I’d see it again in a heartbeat.

A word about Deep Roy. Probably nobody will think of this, but I’d nominate him for Best Supporting Actor. Has anybody ever worked so hard in a movie, done so many things, worn so many costumes, and done it so well? We’re probably not ready for that, the Academy is too stodgy to realize that real acting can happen in an SFX extravaganza. Andy Serkis should have been nominated for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but you know what? He’s listed 34th in the credits. Ridiculous!