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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

115 minutes
adventure, comedy, family

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This entry created 26 August 2021. Last revised on 9 October 2023.

1,656 hits since 26 Aug 2021
©1994-2024 Bill Armintrout
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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Rating: gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star no star no star no star no star no star (4.75)

This movie is filmmaker Tim Burton's attempt to remake the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, going back to its roots: the 1964 children's novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The additions to the plot from the first movie are gone: there is no subplot about Slugworth buying candy secrets, Charlie and his grandfather do not sneak into the fizzy-lifting room, the Wonkamobile is gone, and the plot twist at the end has been replaced with something… new.

The basic plot remains unchanged: Willy Wonka (played by Johnny Depp), reclusive owner of a chocolate factory, announces that tickets have been hidden in five Wonka Bars entitling the owners to a private tour of the factory. Will Charlie, a poor boy living near the factory, get one of the Golden Tickets?

So, what's new this time? First, this movie is a musical like the original, but as in the novel, only the Oompah Loompahs sing – and they do so in lavish 1940's-style Hollywood production numbers and in modern rock-style. Thanks to special effects, every single Oompah-Loompah is played by the same actor: Deep Roy, an Indian born in Kenya, digitally shrunk to pygmie size. Also new are flashbacks to Willy Wonka's childhood, and introducing the character of his father (played by Christopher Lee).

Special effects have obviously advanced since 1971, making possible the squirrel nut-sorting room from the novel, as well as the amazing glass elevator. As the 'bad kids' suffer their various fates, the effects are more dramatic and the outcomes are depicted as described in the novel. However, I found the special effects less marvelous than I expected.

And then we get a twist at the end, when Willy Wonka is the one who needs help and healing from Charlie.

I can see what Tim Burton was trying to do here, but I think he was too clever and missed the boat. Willy Wonka has been turned from a confident, mischievous candymaker to an anti-social, deeply troubled man-child who doesn't even like children. The musical numbers were boring, and the movie lacked humor.

Can we talk about The Oompah-Loompah Problem? In the original version of the novel, the Oompah-Loopahs are 2-foot-tall African pygmies who find safety from jungle life by coming to live with Willy Wonka. After receiving complaints that the Oompah-Loompahs were a lot like slaves, the author changed them in later editions of the book from Africans to being whitish-pink-skinned jungle dwellers. And now, Tim Burton has them being played by an Indian actor. Surprisingly, Burton does not make other changes to the story: Willy Wonka never considers the Oompah-Loompahs for management of the factory, and instead conducts a supposedly global Golden Ticket contest that results in five all-white finalists!

I didn't care much for the movie. It's not Johnny Depp's problem, as he plays what's in the script. Tim Burton tried to improve on the original movie, but all he could give us was special effects.