In the interests of full disclosure:
I loved Roald Dahl's books as a child. I still do. I know precisely where my copy of James and the Giant Peach is, right this instant. Charlie Bucket's adventures, and especially the misadventures of his four rotten compatriots, entranced me. "Oooo, chocolate. Candy. And what's this? A sequel?" The original movie, called Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, is still a great favorite. Gene Wilder's portrayal of chocolatier and candy maker extraordinaire Willy Wonka was pure genius. Peter Ostrum, as Charlie, was rather bland but could look suitably awestruck. Jack Albertson was spry and engaging as Grandpa Joe. I watched and read it over and over again. I memorized the Oompa-Loompa songs—but not the ones from the movie. Those Oompa-Loompas were just wrong. "Oompa-loompa-doompity-do!" What was that all about?
Now I'm all grown up, but when I heard that Tim Burton was remaking Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I squealed. And with Johnny Depp as Willie Wonka, no less! I whooped. In the interests of total transparency, I love Tim Burton and Johnny Depp—
I think you get the picture.
And the picture in question is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a sweet, charming fantasy about a little boy named Charlie Bucket who comes from a home lacking in material goods but full-to-bursting with love, and who get the opportunity of a lifetime when he finds a Golden Ticket—an invitation to tour the marvelous factory of eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka.
This simple story of a good boy amply rewarded while four rotters get their just desserts is impeccably told. The performances, while not requiring great depth, are nicely grounded. Freddie Highmore's Charlie is appreciative of all the wonders he sees, while knowing down to his bones that the love and support of his family are the most important things in his world. David Kelly as Grandpa Joe is perfect as the loving grandfather who not only supports Charlie's dreams but dares to dream them too. The other children—glutton Augustus Gloop, spoiled brat Veruca Salt, over-achiever Violet Beauregard, and video game addict Mike Teevee—are nasty enough that their comeuppances are deeply satisfying. The Oompa-Loompas are always problematic, but Deep Roy—as all of them—was quite entertaining. And Johnny Depp as Willy—well, we'll talk more about him in a bit.
Visually, the film is a feast—quite literally eye candy. Not only in the bright, spun sugar wonders of Willy's factory, but the crazy angles of Charlie's ramshackle home, the elegant dance of the Wonka delivery trucks ... even the costumes are noteworthy. The matching velour warm-ups worn by mother and daughter Beauregard? Perfect. The dental headgear worn by the young Willy? Cringe-inducing. Christopher Lee as Willy's dentist father in his deep, gloomy, leather-bound den? Nicely foreboding. But—but—a young Willy? With a father? What's with that? The Book—
Of course this film cannot be discussed in a vacuum. It has History behind it, and Tradition. It is an Adaptation of a Children's Classic. It also has the lowercase expectations of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp fans weighing it down.
My expectation is that learned movie critic types will not be able to resist dissecting Burton's and Depp's choices concerning Willy Wonka himself. Depp plays him as a wounded man-child with an unfortunate pageboy and an eerily ageless face, and, given that interpretation of Willy, he does a darned good job. But that interpretation of Willy, and the addition of Willy's backstory, is where Burton's version strays farthest from the source material, as well as the first version of the movie.
Why make such a drastic change? the learned movie critic types will ask. Is it to distance this Willy from the agent of chaos Willy in the book or the slightly menacing inscrutable grownup portrayed by Gene Wilder in the first movie? Or is it because Burton and Depp have a thing for wounded man-children (think Edward Scissorhands)?
Perhaps they made the change because this is a simple story of a good boy amply rewarded while four rotters get their just desserts that, if faithfully adapted, would last about an hour. Max. Perhaps they made the change because this simple story has a deeper message about love and the importance of family, and bringing in the story of Willy and his rocky upbringing allowed them to emphasize this message.
Perhaps, in the end, they made some seemingly drastic changes for the sake of that simple story and the movie they made to tell it. That's what I like to think.
Remember, the 1971 film took liberties with the book as well. That bogus burping scene, and the Oompa-Loompas—
But if you like "Oompa-loompa-doompity-do," well, I have nothing more to say.
Lori Ann White is a writer from the San Francisco Bay Area who has decided to go back to school so she can put actual science in her science fiction, but she may just end up writing more stories about crazy people such as herself. Her work has been in Asimov's, Analog, and The Best of the Rest 3, and she is married to F&SF cover boy Gary W. Shockley.