Willy Wonka/Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Well, last time, I wrote about a few fan theories concerning Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and that got me thinking.

See, a lot of people object to the 2005 Tim Burton adaptation of the famous book, because the 1971 movie was already “perfect”, and argue that therefore, the second adaptation (I refuse to call it a remake) was unnecessary

So today, I’d like to take a closer look at that statement, make a few comparisons and actually, conclusively establish which one is truly deserving of being called the true adaptation.

So let’s begin.

Both movies have many things going for them, but in the looks department, the 2005 movie is the superior. Tim Burton, with his very distinct style, really brought the chocolate factory to life. Where the 1971 movie made the factory seem a bit unusual, the 2005 movie made it seem like another world. Of course, one might argue that it is unfair to bring that up, since the newer movie had technological advantages the older movie did not.

But that is, of course, the point. They made a second adaptation, utilizing the technology available to them, and it resulted in a much more impressive looking movie.

But obviously, appearance should not be everything, especially not in movies. The characters are far more important, and some of the portrayals are very different between adaptations. For example, there’s Charlie Bucket himself. Like I mentioned last time, one of the criticisms I’ve heard about the 2005 movie is how unrealistically, overly sweet and good Charlie was compared to the more realistic 1971 version. This is interesting, considering out of the two, the 2005 movie is far closer to how Charlie was in the book. You see, Charlie is the antithesis of the other children. Where they are spoiled, duplicitous and greedy, he is generous, honest and humble.

A particular line in the 1971 movie really stood out to me in terms of Charlie’s character. His mother tells him that even if he doesn’t find a ticket, all that means is that he is no different to all the other billions of people who didn’t find one. Charlie’s response?

But I AM different. I want it more than any of them.

On the one hand, that is something one might expect a child to say. On the other, one might also say that in this particular story, that is something one would expect Veruca Salt to say. It depends on how you look at it.

Now, one alteration, made in the 2005 movie which I find incredibly interesting, is the change they made to Mike Teavee. In his case, the 1971 version is pretty much spot on in its depiction, and the 2005 version is the one that is radically different. Instead of being obsessed with TV, he now plays video games. But that is not what makes him interesting.

In the 2005 version, Mike is devoid of imagination. He cannot think like a child. When he is presented with the news of the hunt for the tickets, he calculates where it is and buys only one bar of chocolate. On its own, this would perhaps imply that intelligence is a negative, on par with Augustus’ gluttony, were it not for one detail. That being that Mike Teavee HATES CHOCOLATE.

Throughout the movie, Wonka tells Mike to stop mumbling. This is not intended to be mocking. He genuinely, fundamentally doesn’t understand Mike, because Mike is essentially the Anti-Wonka.

Willy Wonka is an old man with the heart of a child, whereas Mike is a child with the mind of an adult.

Think about it. Mike willingly and knowingly denied another person the prize of a lifetime, a prize he himself has no interest or pleasure in, simply because he could. He openly mocks everything inside the factory, calling candy a waste of time.

His reasoning for getting into that television machine is not that he wants to be on TV. Here, he does it because he concludes that Wonka has invented a working teleporter, but is too stupid to use it for anything other than chocolate.

So he gets in, failing to consider that, while the technology is technically teleportation, it’s currently applied to television, and therefore, only works one way. Something that isn’t apparent to him until AFTER he’s been beaten up by celluloid Oompa-Loompas.

He really is yet another great example of an Asimovian Idiot. All brains, no wisdom.

Of course, this brings us to the character everyone wants to hear about when it comes to character comparisons. Wonka himself.

So let’s sort this out then. Depp vs Wilder. Which one is the true Wonka?

Much like the other two examples, the two portrayals are very different. Gene Wilder’s portrayal was warm and charismatic, subdued and polite, with occasional quirky comments and some sassy sarcasm. The man virtually exudes class and wisdom.

You know what else his portrayal is?

Absolutely NOTHING like Willy Wonka!

In the book, Wonka is jittery and excitable. He’s practically bursting with life. He’s not just happy, he’s constantly in a state of excitement. When he speaks, it’s always fast and fluid and stream-of-conciousness. Not one thing about him is subdued or restrained. The ONLY time in the entire book when that changes is right at the end, when he explains why he’s giving his factory to Charlie. At that one, fleeting moment, he’s not bubbling with energy or giddy with excitement. He’s calm, serious and subdued, because this is something, the ONLY thing, which he does take seriously.

Gene Wilder’s portrayal is simply far too refined, introspective and subdued. He plays the role far too much like an adult.

However, do not mistake that for me saying Johnny Depp’s portrayal was therefore perfect. While Depp DID indeed play Wonka much more like a child, his version came across as being unsure of the people he’s invited. He doesn’t come across as giddy with excitement, but as being awkward and nervous. 

And while this is something one might expect of a man who has been isolated from human contact for decades, it is not how Wonka should behave. 

If Wilder played Wonka as too old, Depp played him as far too young.

In a way, what we have here is a variation on the “Ledger vs Nicholson” issue. See, there is a correct answer to the question “Which one is the best Joker, Ledger or Nicholson”. The answer is of course neither. Mark Hamill blows both out of the water.

In the question of Wilder vs Depp, in my personal opinion, both portrayals fail to truly capture the character of Willy Wonka.

Now, while the shock of this statement has people too dazed to kill me, let’s move onto a complaint about the 2005 movie which I simply don’t understand.

That complaint being about the Oompa-Loompas. People complained, partly because the 2005 Oompa-Loompas weren’t orange with green hair, and partly because their musical numbers were nothing like the traditional songs from the 1971 movie. Instead, they were special compositions by Danny Elfman.

Neither of these complaints ever made much sense to me. For example, the idea that Oompa-Loompas should be vividly orange, with green hair? Think about that for a moment. What do you think an Oompa-Loompa actually IS? They’re not some alien species or weird genetic experiment gone wrong. They’re supposed to be diminutive humans. Not some weird candy-making mutants. Humans.

And it’s absolutely laughable when people complain about the songs the Oompa-Loompas perform. See, while Danny Elfman wrote the music (and did an amazing job of it) he did not in fact write the lyrics.

Those lyrics were written by Roald Dahl. As in, the author of the book. Those are songs performed by the Oompa-Loompas in the book, now set to music by Danny Elfman. And people hear them and go “aaw, why don’t they go Oompa Loompa Doopeli Doo”?

In the 1971 movie, which was a musical, you know how many lyrics were taken from the book? “Pure imagination” perhaps? How about “I’ve got a Golden Ticket“? Or the most famous song from the movie, because of it becoming a staple of Sammy Davies Jr, “The Candy Man“?

Nope. None of those are from the book. You know what is? That thing Wonka sings during the tunnel scene. That’s it. 

And if I may go on a tangent, what the hell was up with that tunnel scene? It comes out of nowhere, freaks people out with images of bugs and decapitated chickens, none of it fits with anything else that happens in the movie and then, it’s never brought up again. Did Gene Wilder accidentally drink some lead based paint and they decided to film him!?

And then people try to tell me the 1971 movie was “perfect”?!

How the hell can you justify that statement, when it has random bullshit like that? I don’t care if you give it some cutesy nickname. It’s never explained in the movie, and nobody seems that concerned about it once it’s over and just forgets it ever happened. It wasn’t an important scene, no characters were improved by its addition and it added nothing to the plot.

It was therefore just a complete waste of time, and a flimsy excuse to show weird imagery!

Dave: Oh, but there WAS a point for that scene!

Really? What was it, then?

Dave: It’s there to teach children that life is rarely under your control, things can get messed up and confusing very quickly sometimes, and you can either panic or try to enjoy the ride.

Oh, obviously! And they couldn’t have explained that in the movie because…? 

Also, that’s a message that just fits SEAMLESSLY with the other messages in the movie, isn’t it? Be kind, be polite, don’t be greedy and don’t forget we might as well be germs, for all the control we have in life, suck it up and go with it?

Dave: Uhm…

This is like if you were watching Zootopia, and suddenly, in the middle of the movie, we get a scene of Judy and Nick breaking up an underground brothel and drug ring, all played completely straight, like some deranged childrens version of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. It goes on for 10 minutes… and then it goes back to the main plot, and it’s never brought up again.

You know, to teach kids that the world can be a scary place sometimes!

Anyway, let’s look over one last aspect of these movies, before we sort this out.

Let’s look at the story. Both movies took one or two liberties with the source material, though it’s clear that the 1971 movie is less faithful to the original story. With a few exceptions, such as the subplot of Wonkas past, as well as minor character changes, such as the aforementioned Mr. Wonka and Mike Teavee, the 2005 movie is pretty much perfectly accurate to the original book.

The 1971 movie not only drastically altered the portrayal of Wonka, it expanded the character of Slugworth to the role of villain and had Charlies dad be dead, as well as, despite being a musical, only incorporated one song from the original.

However, people seem to be in general agreement that the 1971 movie, if perhaps not the most accurate ADAPTATION, being the better overall MOVIE. And conversely, while the 2005 movie is perhaps not as good, it is far more accurate, not taking anything crucial away from the story, only making additions.

Whether that is based on fact or nostalgia is very hard to say. Perhaps it just comes down to personal preference.

So which one do I prefer? Which one is, to me, the “true adaptation”?

Well, in true Wonka fashion, the correct answer is:

Neither.

Both movies are failures.

What makes me say that, you wonder?

Well, it’s partly because Roald Dahl himself famously disowned the 1971 movie, to the point where he refused to sell the rights to the sequel, and I can’t imagine him being all that thrilled with the 2005 movie, were he still alive. But there is another, very good reason why neither movie succeeds.

Think about it. What is the message of the book? What is the point of the four bad children? Like I said last time, they embody traits which Roald Dahl hated. Gluttonous children, spoiled children and rude, ignorant children, characterized by Augustus, Veruca and Violet, respectively.

But there’s one more, isn’t there? Young Mike Teavee. What do you think he embodies?

I’ll tell you. He embodies television.

Not excessive viewing. Not mindless television programs. Television, period. Don’t believe me? Remember Mike’s dedicated song, as written by Dahl? Here are a few extracts.

The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set
Or better still, just don’t install
The idiotic thing at all.
[…]
He can no longer understand
A fantasy, a fairyland!
His brain becomes as soft as cheese!
His powers of thinking rust and freeze!
He cannot think — he only sees!
[…]
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.

THAT is the point of Mike Teavee. To encourage children to watch less television and instead read books, and feed their imagination.

Now, I myself don’t agree that television DOES in fact cause imagination to stagnate, because my imagination is quite vivid, not only despite, but in many ways BECAUSE of the things I’ve seen in movies and tv-shows. It depends on what you’re watching. But the point is that this was one of the major messages the book tried to convey.

And then, someone decided to take this book, that encourages less watching TV and more reading books…

and make a MOVIE out of it. TWICE!

Which means that, as a direct consequence, fewer people read the original book!

How’s that for irony?

So for that reason, both movie adaptations fail, simply because they are movie adaptations, which defeats the whole point of the book in the first place! And it becomes kind of hypocritical of them to tell us to watch less TV, when they are making money on the fact that we watch TV!

There’s your answer. Which one is the best adaptation? Neither.

Both are (perhaps fittingly) text book definitions of missing the point.

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