July 24, 2005

Willy Wonka

So Anna, Jared and I went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last Saturday. Now, I know all of you are asking yourselves the obvious question "Why wait until a week and a day later to review it?" Well, obviously the answer is because I'm lazy... and the less obvious answer is because I had a paper and a critique to write for Intertestamental Period (I may post the paper, after I've done a bit of polishing as per Moore's critique.) Your next obvious question would then be "Then why bother a week later?" The answer for this one requires a little bit of blog-rolling and demands that you should witness this bit of baseless whining and complaining done by one Morgan Miller (soon to be Mayes.) Without further ado, I will begin my critique and place spoilers in the extended section so that those who wish to see the movie may not have their experience upset by my yammering.

First, if you haven't read Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you're missing out on the excellent piece of entertaining writing upon which this movie and its predecessor Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory are based. Now, if you've seen the first movie and haven't seen the second, I'm going to have to warn you that Roald Dahl has a great sense of humor, but it's dark and a tad twisted... a fact that doesn't show through in the first movie. Roald Dahl afficionadoes widely regard the first movie as sugar-coated Dahl... the second movie makes no such compromises.

If you've seen the earlier movie recently, I should point your attention to the atrocity that is Gene Wilder singing on the boat in the chocolate river. Many, myself included, find this scene in addition to the Oompa Loompas' crappy songs to be slights against Dahl and against our good tastes. You will count yourself fortunate that Johnny Depp engages in no singing, and Tim Burton's Oompa Loompas are far creepier and more entertaining than their bizarrely overweight counterparts in Mel Stuart's version.

I could go on about the superiorities of the later version to the earlier version, but I feel that I must point out a difficulty with the later version: it gives Wonka a back-story. This isn't all bad... but it really is mostly bad and rather painful to watch. And while I'm sure Christopher Lee has been enjoyable in a good number of movies, I would just has soon not have seen him in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

These failings aside, I feel that the whole movie was done in characteristic Dahl style. The antagonists were every bit as twisted and grotesque as Dahl envisioned them. When I saw Augustus Glop, I thought of Mervyn Peake, and I was glad. Veruca, Violet and Mike were likewise every bit as demented as their literary counterparts... and I especially liked the modernized version of Mike who played FPS video games.

I felt that the Bucket family was well-portrayed, if perhaps a tad too affluent. The family was certainly odd enough... from the creepy old grandparents right on down through the innocent Charlie. On the part of the contestants... and in fact in every part except Dr. Wonka, I feel the casting was perfectly done. And, I suppose, if there had to be a Dr. Wonka, Christopher Lee played the part as well as anyone could... but I'm not talking about that yet.

And then it comes to Willy Wonka himself. Johnny Depp played Dahl's dream of Wonka better than Gene Wilder could have imagined. From the distracted, creepy personality to the oddball clothes to the twisted disdain for the grotesque children, Depp reminds us of Dahl's Wonka as he ruthlessly mocks and dispatches the parents of the grotesque children and we all smile (some of us cackle) as he effortlessly sends them through torture in revenge for their forcing their nasty presences on him.

I must urge you to go see the movie... and read the book first, if possible. If you find yourself feeling the urge to compare Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp and find Wilder winning, go watch the original again. I suspect for many (Morgan included) nostalgia will rose-taint the memory of the film. And if, after reading the book and re-watching the original, you still prefer Wilder to Depp, let me know... we'll work something out.

Now, leaving the character analysis and looking at the plot, one notices several deviations, one of which was good, one neutral and one abysmal. First, the excrable scene with the fizzy pop was removed... which did unfairly white-wash Charlie and Grandpa Joe, but at the same time, I never cared for the scene in the movie or the book... so I was glad. While I was also glad to see that someone finally modernized Charlie's dad out of a job (which was clever and necessary), I really can't say I was glad to see his family get rich and prosperous on their own. I mean, really... if the Buckets could have made it on their own, why did it take so long for Mr. Bucket to stop screwing on lids and look for a real job. And lastly, I have to add my voice to those of the masses and complain about Willy Wonka's back story and the freaking "come back to daddy" nonsense. Granted, Charlie did play a nice part and it did satisfy Wonka's neuroses... but the fact of the matter is that Willy Wonka was just warped to begin with in both Dahl's version and in the first movie, and the back story didn't do much to amplify this, instead it provided the needless sap that Dahl tends to avoid. Oh yeah, and the vanishing house was gay.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at July 24, 2005 11:21 PM | TrackBack