It is hard to talk about Tim Burton’s 2005 interpretation of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ without someone comparing it to its predecessor. While this is both inescapable and understandable; it is also unfortunate. The two films were made for entirely different purposes, and each, in their own way, realized the particular vision they were aiming at.
The overall story in both films is the same, taken largely from the source material written by Roald Dahl. Charlie, a poor young boy, wins a tour of the fabulous Wonka Candy Factory by the illusive and mysterious Willy Wonka. While on the tour Charlie, his grandpa, and a bunch of other contest winners get to experience the whimsical and wacky ways that the Wonka factory operates.
Viewers of both films are quick to point out the obvious differences. The first film was a musical and while there were some dark moments all in all it was a happy, positive film. Burton’s take is hard to describe as happy. While it certainly isn’t a negative portrayal the entire thing is swathed in the typical dark humor characteristic of many of his other films. This difference in approaches makes sense if you examine the intent of each filmmaker.
The original film was a quickly shot film aimed at advertising the very candy featured in the movie. It needed to be positive and capture the imagination of children because the hope was that they would want to buy/eat the candy after they saw the magical world of Wonka on the big screen. Burton, on the other hand, was not attempting to push candy. He was more concerned about the source material and the characters that lived in this weird world created by Dahl. If you really think about it; it is hard to imagine a “realistic” version of the story that isn’t steeped in some sort of darkness, especially when trying to tell the story of an older man with an affinity for candy and young children to an audience living in today’s society.
Johnny Depp’s Wonka is worlds away from Gene Wilder’s, but this was necessary, especially given the impetus by Burton to explain how and why Wonka became who he is. Wonka is no longer just a mysterious Gatsby-esque candy maker, but a real, tortured soul. This is not to say that Depp’s characterization is entirely ideal. It definitely takes some getting used to, but this works in favor of the story Burton is trying to tell. Wonka is not meant to instantly be some ideal hero or leading man. He is an awkward, childish, and irrational shell that needs Charlie to help him fix his life and move on from the past.
It is about time that Burton’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ got a special edition release on Blu Ray with some real special features. Many wrote the film off because it was so different from the original. While the differences are obvious they are intentional. ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is not a remake of ‘Willy Wonka’, but a new, possibly truer, interpretation of Dahl’s great book. The new special edition offers again the chance for audiences to embrace this distinction and see the film for what it is and not for what some think it is or wish it should be.
In stores now.