A Tale of Tom, Two Mavens, and a Couple Very Different Chocolate Factories

A couple weeks ago, I found myself caught in a Culture Maven cross-fire concerning Willy Wonka movies. Kelly staunchly supported the Gene Wilder 1971 version, while Jen argued for the 2005 Tim Burton film with Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka.

I loved the book when I was a kid, and I remember being disappointed when first I saw the 1971 film with Gene Wilder. It was fourth grade, the Friday night movie, and I couldn’t wait. It’s a testament to my parents’ saintlike patience that they didn’t sell me to gypsies for yelling at the screen.

Many years passed before I saw it again. I got a copy of the VHS, and, after multiple viewings–and with copious amounts of alcohol and stuff–I became a huge fan of the Gene Wilder film. Every time I heard “Pure Imagination,” my eyes got leaky, and I could sing almost all of “I Want It Now.”

The Gene Wilder version had defaulted its way into my heart.

In 2005, shortly after I got out of…that special resort ;), friend/sort-of-sister Abby wanted to take me to see the Tim Burton film. I went.

I hated almost eveything about it, from the latex-covered Oompa-Loompa(s) to the Michael Jacksony way Johnny Depp played Wonka.

Again, six weeks out of rehab, I would’ve hated any remake of a “Tom Drinking Classic.”

A few months ago, I heard “Pure Imagination” in a tv ad. Meh.

So when I saw the Tim Burton version in Wal-Mart for $5, I decided to give it another chance. And by golly…

Each has its own merits, to be sure, but let’s compare, shall we?

By this, I mean the distance from the opening credits to the factory gates. On this, I’d give the edge to the Burton one. We don’t get bogged down with “Charlie’s poor” overkill. We meet the family, get brief backstories on the other kids, and see Grandpa Joe get all excited with the golden ticket.

What we miss out on are unnecessary jaunts to Charlie’s school, his paper route, the stable where his mother washes clothes. Also, we miss several songs that the movie doesn’t need.

I should note that I would rather watch Charlie and Grandpa Joe dance around to “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” than go through the Burton film’s Wonka’s Dad as Dentist Nazi subplot.

Let’s look at the cast:

Augustus Gloop: Kind of a toss-up. Neither does much onscreen. I’d go with the remake Augustus, just because he zings Charlie, which shows more personality in that ten seconds than the 1971 Augustus does the whole film.

Violet Beauregard: I love Annasophia Robb. I think she’s an excellent actress. But the 1971 Violet wins hands down. She was funny and brash, especially when she told Veruca Salt, “Can it, you nit!!!” She also seems more like a gumchewer to me.

Mike Teavee: The 1971 Mike Teavee is an anachronism. He walks around with a cowboy outfit and cap guns. He wouldn’t last 5 minutes in 2005. Somebody would beat the shit out of him. It would be for his own good. Really. A complete doofus. Worse, I didn’t really like the kid who played him in 1971.

2005 Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry) is a complete bastard. He absolutely rocks. He’s a genius-punk, and I think the kid who plays him nails it. Completely nails it. The way he torments Willy Wonka by being such an insufferable know-it-all, why that’s worth a case of Mars Bars.

Veruca Salt:
I think 2005 Veruca does a really nice job. She’s bratty and loathesome. I have no problem with her performance.
But Julie Dawn Cole in the 1971 version was epic. The slow burns she does, the malice toward anyone who crosses her…she was like Bette Davis in a training bra, and she was among my earliest crushes. She’s my favorite character in the 71 version.

Grandpa Joe:
This is one of the two roles in the film where I don’t think you can compare, because the films were so different.

Grandpa Joe 2005 has less of a role. He’s a favorite grandparent, but GJ71 was almost a father to Charlie. In the 2005, Charlie has a father. Also, GJ71 has to sing and dance.

I think each Grandpa Joe earns full marks. I wonder what the 1971 film would have been like without a Tony, Oscar, and Emmy-winning vaudevillian as Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson was a rare triple winner).

Other Family:
2005. The mother in the 1971 version was just too sickly sweet for me, and the three other grandparents did nothing. In the 2005 film, they were really funny. When Grandpa George goes off on a swearing tirade against Mike Teavee, or when Grandma Josephine blurts out non-sequiturs, it adds a bit of spice to their cabbage soup existence.

Willy Wonka:
This is the other role I find impossible to judge. Gene Wilder hit a home run with his Willy Wonka, being subtly eccentric in a semi-musical. Johnny Depp plays up the crazy, which is where I remember Mr Wonka being in the book. I think Johnny Depp benefited from his close relationsip with Tim Burton. He knew he could trust his director, and I’m sure that helped him.

In short, I think each actor did an excellent job in the film he made. If I had to pick one, i’d probably go with Gene Wilder, just for the way he delivers, “Is the grisly reaper mowing??”

Peter Ostrum made one film. He’s a veterinarian now in upstate New York. He did a good job playing Charlie as the all-American kid. He had a lot of charisma, and–excepting that he was required to sing, and couldn’t carry a tune in a suitcase–he was believable and heroic.

Freddie Highmore’s Charlie is the greatest kid ever. He’s smart and kind, but not saccharine. His delivery and smile and tone are all perfect. He seems more like a real kid, too. Tim Burton has a gift for directing child actors, and Freddie Highmore is amazingly talented anyway.

In summation…
I like both of these movies. Where I think I would give the edge to the Tim Burton movie is this: the way Charlie was shown as a citizen of the world. 71 Charlie is shown almost supernaturally, like an angel. No, like Jesus. Think about it: he feeds the masses (the loaf of bread “banquet”), heals the crippled (Grandpa Joe arises after 20 years), and rises into heaven (the film ends with him high above the world in the Wonkavator).

Burton’s film shows Charlie as an extraordinarily cool kid, but he’s a part of this world. He wants the Golden Ticket, but he’s pretty adamant about selling it. It’s not overly dramatic. There’s no sense of predestination. In the family, Freddie Highmore-Charlie is doted on like an only child, but he’s not the breadwinner. He’s a real-world kid, not a fantastic ideal.

And the older I get, the more the 1971 Oompa-Loompas give me the collywobbles.

These are two very different takes on a classic book. The difference is that Tim Burton’s reboot thrills in the mischief the 1971 version misses. Even though I miss Julie Dawn Cole’s hot bratty presence, I’ll go for the one with the fun Oompa Loompas, the evil-genius Mike Teavee, and the Danny Elfman score.


14 Responses to “A Tale of Tom, Two Mavens, and a Couple Very Different Chocolate Factories”

  1. I love your analysis of the movies, tom: but I’m going to stay away from getting sucked into a debate over “old Charlie” vs. “new Charlie” after having to listen to my kids fight for an hour over the virtues of both. I loved the book—it turned me into a Roald Dahl fan, though it meant sneaking his adult books into my room and reading them under the covers with a flashlight. The first movie came out when I was in middle school, when I was “too cool for a kids’ movie:” but I was also appalled by the music and the orange Oompa Loompas. (The original illustrations in the first edition were non-PC however—there was no way even a Hollywood movie in the 70s was going to show pygmies with bones in their hair and noses, wearing grass skirts.) I didn’t see the newer movie until last year, but enjoyed Tim Burton’s combination of Charles Dickens poverty and 21st-century media-hyped weirdness. But when I heard my adult children screaming about misogyny in the portrayal of the girls and ridicule of fat people in Augustus Gloop’s character, I backed out of the room and fixed myself a drink. I didn’t think I would live so long as to hear my own kids deconstructing a children’s movie. Sins of the mother, I guess.

    • I love that your kids were arguing about this. It was really hard to compare them (nb: the two movies, not your two kids). Really, I like both films. A lot. At least Burton shows the Oompa-Loompas in their original habitat, and he uses Roald Dahl’s lyrics for their songs. The 71 Oompas don’t seem mischievous at all. They don’t smile.

      Also, I can more easily see Depp-Wonka cut off from humanity. Wilder-Wonka is too people-friendly.

      How great to live with technology that allows us to debate such things. As if the world weren’t crumbling elsewhere. 😀

  2. Both movies are creepy and I want nothing to do with them.

  3. I gotta give it to 71 on songs, and on Wonka. Depp is just all weird all the time, whereas Wilder is more subtle — seeming gentle and friendly and then horrifying. And Depp went a little too child-molestery for my taste. There’s creepy and then there’s wrong.

    Oompa-Loompas wig me out, but the earlier ones are somewhat less creepy.

  4. I haven’t seen either movie or read the book. Not sure if I will. But I certainly enjoyed this analysis. You are a fun read anytime! 😉

  5. It took me a long time to warm up to the ’05 Chocolate Factory, mostly because Johnny Depp was seriously too Michael Jackson for me. He’s a great actor and could have gone loony without the lascivious sleazebag effect, I think. That was disappointing. And the whole dentist thing was just unnecessary. Even if I do love Christopher Lee (awesome in The Stupids!!!).

    I absolutely loved the Oompa Loompas – both versions. Points to ’71 Oompa Loompas for better diction. Deep Roy was wonderful in all his selves.

    Jack Albertson will always be one of my favorite crusty old codgers who dance in a nightshirt. The rest of the ’71 family was meh. The ’05 family was okay. Much more like the book.

    To me, Gene Wilder was just fantastic in every moment. I love when he starts screaming the contract terms. And, of course, “Yes! The danger must be growing, For the rowers keep on rowing, And they’re certainly not showing Any signs that they are slowing…”

    How did you know I was just thinking about these films lately? GET OUT OF MY BRAAAAAIIIINNNNN!

    • Mwahahahahahaha. I am just an Oompa-Loompa in the chocolate factory that IS your brainz. 😛

      I got the MJ/pædophile thing the first time I saw 05. Now, I don’t see it at all. He hates kids and recoils when one hugs him. Even the Christopher Lee dentist thing bugs me less now. I give Johnny Depp credit for not trying to emulate or update Gene Wilder’s Wonka.

      I agree w/you. The boat soliloquy is spectacular, with Pure Imagination and the HE GETS NOTHING office scene. OH, and when they get into the Wonkavator, and he says, “Charlie. Grandpa Joe, sir.” I love that too. “Grandpa Joe, sir.”

      There’s a featurette on all the work they had to do with Deep Roy. He earned his money, fo sho. I hope he got a percentage. Good Lord, talk about a golden ticket.

      Okay. Back to exploring your braaainz. 😉

  6. “The suspense is terrible… I hope it’ll last.”

  7. Oh god, no. I “liked” JE’s comment! I am the world’s worst movie watcher.
    I start watching and then get up and wander away. I haven’t even tried to watch it yet. *blush*

    I have several movies the kids have bought me because I requested them that I haven’t ever opened! I suck!

    • Nah. You’re still a-okay in my book. Besides, I can watch movies, but only a Lauri can raise ocelots and work in the poo lab. You are awesome. If we ever play Trivial Pursuit, however, let me answer the movie questions, mmkay?

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