Along with the entire Encyclopedia Brown series, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was one of the most enjoyable books I ever read as a youngster. I always regarded it as distinctly different than the 1971 film adaptation “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, which, as the title accurately indicates, twisted the whole story into something closer to “The Gene Wilder Show” with Charlie Bucket sitting in the front row. That wasn’t necessarily bad, though. Quite the contrary; it certainly had a charm all its own. However, it’s notable that the 1971 film fundamentally differed from the book by being less about Charlie, and more about Willy.
I was very happy to hear about Tim Burton’s project last year, paying close attention to the title, which was consistent with the book. The title itself hinted that, unlike the 1971 film, Burton’s will focus more on our story’s hero Charlie Bucket. Nice. And who better than Tim Burton to take it on? Like “James and the Giant Peach”, the trademark Burton cinematic stylization infused into this classic story promised to be a winning combination.
Checked it out tonight. Started off great, giving me pretty much what I wanted. The first half hour or so focuses on the underdog Charlie and his underprivileged tri-generation family in their cold little London shack, bringing back fond memories of the book. The priceless Golden Ticket, the emotional connection to the grandfather who snuck Charlie his life savings in order to give them both one last chance, the scene where they’re anxiously peeling back the foil together, the cabbage soup theme, and so forth. The little details. One of those types of filmed adaptations that revive welcomed memories of a storybook you read decades ago in your bunkbed, making you feel your age. All accompanied by an excellent soundtrack by Danny Elfman.
Then came that big day, where Charlie and the other four lucky ticket-finding children reported to the Wonka factory to redeem their private tour. Here we go. Here comes the good stuff. The main event. Time to meet our Willy Wonka, the weird rich guy haunted by a troubled personal past who invited children to visit his private playground with questionable intentions, this time played by an unnaturally fair-skinned Johnny Depp.
Hmmm. Familiar, but perhaps too familar. Especially lately.
From that point on, I found it somewhat challenging to watch the movie without constantly expecting the gloved Depp to suddenly drop his cane, fling his hat across the room, and then bust into a moonwalk.