Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Why both "Chocolate Factory" film adaptations are worse than each other

"Worse than each other?" you say, furrowing your brow at the title of this post. "Isn't that logically impossible? Either they're just as bad, or one of them is the worst..."

No. I'm sorry. Your common sense and your actual understanding of primary school maths have no sway over me today, friend.

I never read Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory -- blasphemy, perhaps? -- though I have great fondness for his work. (Matilda and The BFG spring to mind, as do many of his short stories for an adult audience -- I had a fondness for Mr. Botibol.) If you asked me, which you didn't, I'd say that I enjoyed both Mel Stuart's 1971 adaptation (f. Gene Wilder) and Tim Burton's 2005 adaptation (f. Johnny Depp) of the book. The latter lacked the former's indefatigably catchy Oompa Loompa song, but whether that's a plus or a minus is anyone's guess.

The original film wasn't well received by everyone, especially not by Roald Dahl himself. His former publisher, Liz Attenborough, was quoted saying:

[Dahl] thought [the original movie] placed too much emphasis on Willy Wonka and not enough on Charlie.

So, assuming the badness of a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film is measured by how much extra attention the movie plays to its bigwig film star Wonka instead of Charlie the, uh, protagonist, then we can safely say the following:

One respect in which the Gene Wilder movie was undeniably worse than the Willy Wonka one:

The title.

Did I say "Charlie the protagonist"? My mistake.

One respect in which the Johnny Depp movie was undeniably worse than the Gene Wilder one:

It allotted a ridiculous amount of screen time to explaining Wonka's complicated traumatic childhood.

Not that there was anything short of awesome about Christopher Lee's performance as Wonka's pastiche dentist father. But turning the film's resolution into a subplot about reconciling estranged father and son puts the spotlight firmly on Wonka, and so by our rules, it's problematic. know? I really don't know whether I'm being serious, either. But if there's one thing I do know, it's that I prefer the Gene Wilder film.

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