Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Paul R. Potts

Looking this bit of writing over again in 2022, I’m not sure why I thought Charlie and the Chocolate Factory could possibly be a better movie than the original 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. To put it in perspective, I’ve re-watched the 1971 film several times since then and enjoyed doing so immensely, but I have not re-watched the 2005 film even once (although perhaps I should).


Last night we went to see the new Willy Wonka movie at the IMAX theater at the Henry Ford Museum. It was better than I expected; some tepid reviews had left me with lowered expectations. That is probably a good thing. The IMAX format was a lot of fun for this film, especially during Oompa Loompa musical numbers. It isn’t just a bigger picture, but filmed on much larger format film, so there is a very detailed grain to it that works especially well in this movie to reveal artificial-looking eyes (with contact lenses, in most cases, or digitally enhanced), and makeup (usually ghoulish). The wrinkled faces of Charlie Bucket’s elderly grandparents are wonderfully expressive in this huge format. It’s pretty much the ultimate Tim Burton film; he’s gotten very, very good at what he does, and if you like Tim Burton films, you’ll like this one. It is in some ways closer to the original text than the older movie, but gives Willy Wonka a back story and rationale. It isn’t so true to the book, but I think it makes a better movie.

It’s also made me give a little more thought to the Willy Wonka story. I find it interesting that the setting is a factory: a place which is inherently unsafe, because manufacturing requires energies and materials to come togther in large quantities, in which adult rules for safety must obtain, and in which the strategies of the various children (gluttony, begging and demanding, artificially inflated self-confidence, excessive smarts) and the parents that made the children that way can’t protect them, probably for the first time in their lives, and so it is time for some hard life lessons.

It’s really a Grimm’s fairy tale, although everyone survives in the end, unlike the way things work in the original Brothers Grimm stories. Burton makes it even more complicated when he asks us to consider Willy Wonka’s own family story and Wonka’s own strategies are for confronting life’s hardships. (Johnny Depp’s Wonka comes off reminiscent of Michael Jackson). The film actually goes a little deeper in that respect. Charlie’s character, however, and that of his grandfather are not explored deeply at all; in the book and original movie, Charlie’s grandfather tempts him into his own naughty behavior (stealing “fizzy lifting drinks” and nearly getting themselves killed, and nearly losing the grand prize). In this film Charlie is flawlessly boring in his desire to give everything to his family; he even offers to sell his golden ticket to provide money for his parents. Fortunately, one of the grandparents tells him, in one of the film’s best lines, that there are only ever going to be five golden tickets, but there will always be more money because “they print more every day.” Sage advice to take a once-in-a-lifetime chance!

Ann Arbor, Michigan
March 2005

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