Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Sugar or Canderel?

When I think of Charlie and the Chocolate factory, I think of chocolate waterfalls and an endless amount of rooms filled with delightfully wonderful treats and sweets. I think of Quentin Blake’s quirky illustrations and of Mr Willy Wonka. And then there is Charlie, the endearingly deserving protagonist of this unlikely fiction. It is a magnificent read, which is probably why I cannot stand Tim Burton’s movie. It turns the book into one of his peculiar nightmares; a transformation seen many times by those who follow his movies.

Wonka and his factory are one of my favourite Dahl creations. Reading this book for me was like a bowl of fudge before it sets: rich and indulgently imaginative; a thick pool of diction where one can swirl their finger and be transported to lala land. I can easily say, then, that watching Burton’s movie was like watching a favourite pet get run over, with multiple replays in slow-mo. Ok, so maybe it wasn’t that bad but it certainly wasn’t anything like the book.

Between Freddie Highmore, who played Charlie Bucket, and David Kelly, who played Grandpa Jo, the movie was able to retain some of the unique qualities of its literary counterpart. Even their fabulous acting, however, could not save the distinction between book and movie. The movie, while appearing to be the visual equivalent of the book, was actually no more than a substitute: like Canderel and sugar, soy and beef, margarine and butter, rye and bread. Get the picture? Watching the movie made me yearn for the real thing: the book!

My major pet peeve with this movie was the way that Johnny Depp portrayed Willy Wonka. No offence to Depp, because I am a huge fan of his, but Willy Wonka was eccentric: he was NOT a camp psychotic on the verge of a mental breakdown. I mean honestly, make the distinction because quirky and psycho are two entirely different personality traits. And what the hell was going on with the mad dentist father?!

The whole process was just traumatic. The book was put through the shredder and then glued together again; the screenwriter took poetic licence to a whole new level of awful. It fell into the psychological drama genre instead of fantasy and basically everything felt wrong and twisted. Usually I would make an exception for Burton. I mean this is what he does best: he makes wonderfully weird movies. But this time he went too far! I am astounded (and confounded) that he has been able to turn a children’s book into a psychologist’s dream with all the wonka-wonky layers going on in the movie.

I’m not even going to get started on the Oompa Loompas. When they appeared just after the fat boy got sucked up the chocolate pipe, it became apparent that these mini-men where no longer the vibrant characters that I remembered; they had become Burton zombies. Just listening to them sing those, once hysterically funny, songs made me fear that this movie was actually interlaced with subliminal messaging, and that we, the viewers, were all under the influence of mind control. Freaky. Burton added too much of his own scariness which definitely detracted from the books naturally barmy undertones.

I sometimes wonder whether Tim Burton has become more of a brand, a gimmick, than an authentic director with nutty tendencies… just a thought to consider. Roald Dahl is one of my favourite childhood authors and since he is dead, I feel it is my duty to defend his work against monstrous movies such as this one.

Phew, I’m glad I got that off my chest.

In conclusion, pitting this movie against the book would be like the Grinch taking on Santa Clause: once again the book wins hands down.


6 thoughts on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Sugar or Canderel?

  1. Great post! You made some really good points. Despite being a great fan of Burton himself and the visuals that he brings to the screen in anything he reproduces (because many of his movies recently have been reproductions of earlier texts) – perhaps it is almost a thought that he is like a brand. Or perhaps its just a distinct style? Who knows. Quite a graphic image of a pet being run over… but over the years I’ve realised that sometimes its difficult to compare a book to the movie and expect them to keep all the same standards. I remember watching the first Harry Potter movie and hating it – before watching it another 8 times. As more Potter movies came out, and other movies based on books (this included) and actually studying Film I’ve come to realise that the 2 are such different art forms that its near to impossible to remain faithful. Thats why movies are “based” on books, as a basis, they cant be expected to keep everything and depict it in the same way. In response to this movie though, is it just the Burton version of the film you disliked so much, or it being made into a movie at all? I have to say that even though I liked Burtons fresh take, the original movie was a far better and less twisted variation. As you say, Mr Wonker was eccentric and not the psycho that Depp was made to look like and portray.

    • I must admit that I’ve come to the same conclusion that you have- that the book and the movie are separate in many ways- so I can’t expect them to be exactly the same; in any case, each persons experience when reading a book would be so different that no single movie would satisfy all of us. I do feel, however, that whatever interpretation the director displays in his/her movie.. it’s going to be criticized. In this case, watching the movie was such a disappointment, and I don’t think it would make people want to read the book. It just didn’t catch the central essence of the book, the “Dahl-ness”.. and I think that the Director owes the book that much, to represent it to its fullest visually- so then the fact that it is different doesn’t really matter, but whether it is a good representation definitely does. I love Harry Potter.. and have come to appreciate most of the movies- I like some more than others- so to answer your question: I can’t stand Burton’s interpretation of the book. I liked the older movie version- what I remember of it. It has been years since I watched it! I don’t dislike books been made into movies but I will definitely always compare the two and I do expect the movie to retain some of the books distinctive qualities. 🙂

  2. oh i totally agree, Tim Burton has become a brand name. i abseloutly hated this movie, in fact this movie made me jump off the johnny depp band wagon. what the hell was up with that ridicolouse bob cut? and he acted like he had escpaed from an asylum, how charlie and him could form any kind of bond is beyond me.
    i loved the original movie, in fact i only read the book years after watching the movie repeatedly. i loved the oompa loompas. there was this very disturbing quality to them especially when they sang, i loved it when they sany. Burton totally destroyed that by using the same midget and then digitslly multiplying him. THE HELL!?!?!?!? and then makeing their songs all techon dance floor?
    and the dentist father!?!?!?!? i found it random, but i liked that this origin story for wonka actually sort of fitted. but we really didnt need it because one of the most appealing things about wonka is that you dont need to know where he came from, his wierdness and quirkyness is more than enough. Gene Wilder as the original wonka was superb. the 1971 version should have been left alone.
    like fantastic mr fox, my all time faverout dahl book. they made a stop motion movie of it that came out last year. i havent read the book for years, but after watching that movie i felt as if my childhood had been raped, the same with burtons version of charlie and chocolat factory. nowadays they take childrens books, and they dont stick to the original story, they change it and the changes dont even benifit the story. Except How To Train Your Dragon, i havent read the book, but im sure the two are very different but both work.

    • I know right! Johnny Depp, what was he thinking?! He just came across as a complete loon!! And the Oompa Loompas.. I shudder just thinking about them.. the same midget digitally multiplied by like a thousand was sooo disturbing!!!! I thought that the dentist father was a cool concept but it was unnecessary.. I also didn’t think that it fitted because like you said, his mysterious background was part of what made him interesting.
      I love Fantastic Mr Fox!! Haha, I still need to watch the movie that came out in 3D- is that the one you’re referring to?

  3. While a book and a movie are two completely different art forms, I do think that a movie should stay true to the essence of the book. Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a light, fun, wildly imaginative, silly, quirky story about every child’s fantasy – a delightful sweet factory with a chocolate waterfall, candy-sprouting trees, an inventing room, outlandish sweets and cute little workers.

    Quite frankly, I think that Burton should’ve steered clear of reworking Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Burton’s natural inclination for dark eccentricy and the macabre really don’t have any place in this magical world of confectionary which Dahl so brilliantly created. I thought that maybe he should’ve attempted George’s Marvelous Medicine instead because it’s a tad more sinister, what with George wanting to kill his granny with the greatest concotion of household chemicals known to man – BUT, on second thought, even this book isn’t one that I’d like to see reconstructed by Burton, and here’s why:

    Unlike Alice in Wonderland, which was already pretty dark and twisted before Burton got his hands on it, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, along with almost all of Dahl’s children’s books, manages to capture a unique child-like quality, a certain naivety. It’s as if Dahl allows us to see everything through the eyes of a child, as strange and far-fetched as all of it may seem. And even though the events described may be horrifying (e.g. Violet blows up into a blueberry after eating experimental chewing gum and has to be taken to the Juicing Room to get the juice out of her), his writing still maintains a light, comical feel to it. This is something that can’t be said of Burton’s movies which tend rather to have an eery tone from start to finish. I mean look at Burton’s disturbed representation of Willy Wonka – it is so far from the mad, fun inventive one envisaged in Dahl’s book and Quintin Blake’s illustrations.

    I’m still not sure about whether I liked what Burton did with Alice in Wonderland, but I could definitely appreciate his style when applied to the adaption of this book. However, I really think he should’ve steered clear of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and possibly all of Dahl’s books for that mattter). While I can certainly appreciate that a director should have a considerable amount of creative freedom, I also think it’s important that a movie captures the overall tone and essence of the book on which it is based. So I have to agree with Rebecca on this one – Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory gets a thumbs down from me.

    I have to add that I haven’t watched Burton’s adaption of James and the Giant Peach – any thoughts on how he reworked this one?

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