Last week, the kids and I hit the local multiplex for a matinee of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." They had already seen it with Reasonable Man, otherwise known as their father, the weekend I went on the Bachelorette Cruise, which annoyed me because I'd wanted to see it, and it annoyed me even more when I complained about this to Reasonable Man and he said "I didn't think you wanted to see it." WTF? I definitely never said that. I think this is maybe just a wee bit of a passive-aggressive thing he does when I go on trips, taking them to the good kids' movies, if this recent example and also the fact that he took them to see "The Incredibles" when I was gone last fall are any clue. But I digress.
I was kind of excited about seeing the new "Charlie" movie. I'm one of those people who really liked the original for what it was, but it didn't seem like sacrilege for them to remake it or anything -- I mean, the old one was so cheesy, and, special effects being what they are today, I thought it would be fun to see what they could do with it. Besides, I've liked pretty much every Tim Burton movie I've ever seen and when I heard he was doing it, it seemed like a good fit to me.
So how did I like it? Well, I enjoyed it a lot. And at the same time, I couldn't help comparing each part of it to the old movie that I've seen so many times. I really couldn't say at this point that I like either of them better than the other -- it's pretty much a draw. It feels weird to me to feel that way because I usually have a pretty strong opinion about these kinds of things. Anyhoo, I've got it in my head to do a point-by-point comparison here and so I'm gonna do it. I will be talking about the end of the movie(s) here so consider that a spoiler alert, although it's hard to imagine that anyone is going to be shocked to hear that there's a happy ending or anything like that.
Starting at the very beginning: the title. This round goes to the new film, because they went with the original title from Roald Dahl's book, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." The 70s version was called "Willie Wonka and Chocolate Factory," and in my opinion, there was no good reason to change it.
Portrayal of Willie Wonka -- okay, this may be an unpopular one. I'm not a hater of Johnny Depp -- I enjoyed his work in "Edward Scissorhands" and "Pirates of the Carribean," and would classify myself as leaning in the direction of being a fan of his. That said -- I didn't like what he did in this movie. The way he delivered his lines just really got on my nerves, not really enough to seriously impair my ability to enjoy the movie, but enough to make me think "eh -- this is not working for me" a number of times. Gene Wilder, OTOH, with his fuzzy hair and his more subtle hostility toward the kids who are visiting his factory -- for me, he just hits all the right notes, and frankly it would have been hard for Depp's performance to top his in my mind, but seriously -- in my not-so-humble opinion, Depp doesn't even come close.
Portrayal of Charlie and the Bucket Family -- OMG, did the new movie kick the old movie's ass to the curb on this one or what? I'll admit it: I never liked the old Charlie much. I thought he was kind of a pansy. The old Grandpa Joe was annoying too. Personally I thought maybe when Charlie was deciding who to take to the factory with him, he could have at least thought about taking his mom, who spent all day stirring big vats of other people's laundry to support the four bedridden grandparents, one of whom apparently could get up and dance the whole damn time. Then again, old Mom sang that horrible "Cheer Up, Charlie" song that seemed to go on for an hour, so maybe I would have wanted to ditch her too. In any case, in the old movie, you just couldn't wait for all Charlie's family crap to be over with so we could get to the factory already. In the new movie, not so much. I loved the parents and the look of the house, and even the grandparents were kind of cute instead of just, like "ech, can you imagine having them just sitting there in the middle of your living room all day long?" You really did believe that they didn't mind being poor because they all had each other. Yeah, sap, I know, but the actors sold it. The child who played Charlie didn't blow me away or anything, but he was huge improvement over the icky blond kid in the old one.
The factory -- this one is a draw. The stuff in the new movie is awesome, of course, but you know what? I didn't think that the room that's made to look like it's outdoors but everything is made of candy, for instance, was a big improvement over the one in the old movie. I did like the shots of the outside of the factory in the new one, and Grandpa Joe's story about working there and how everyone was fired after secrets started leaking out. I also liked the glass elevator scene near the end too -- in the old movie, Willie Wonka talks about how the elevator can go in any direction, but in the new one you get to actually see it, and that's fun. But as far as the scenes that happened in both movies are concerned, nothing really really blew me out of the water.
The other kids -- well, Augustus Gloop isn't onscreen for very long in either movie, and I didn't notice his character being very different from one to the other. He's a fat German kid who eats too much, his mom thinks he's precious, he drinks from the chocolate river, falls in, and gets sucked into a pipe. So he's a tie, as is Mike TeeVee. I don't really understand why they made him be addicted to video games rather than TV in the new one -- I understand that video games are maybe a bit more timely but his last name is still TeeVee, and he still comes to the end of his tour of the chocolate factory being sent by television waves, so what's the point? Neither of the kids who played him stood out to me particularly.
Violet Beauregard -- now, I appreciated what they did with her in the new film. Substitute the used-car-salesman dad for a hyper-competitive mom, give her and the kid matching blonde bobs and track suits -- it was cute. I was liking them as well as I liked Violet and her dad in the old one right up until she blew up into a giant blueberry, and then, you know what? The CGI ruined it for me, because she didn't look real anymore. It was like in the first Harry Potter movie, where they're whipping around on broomsticks playing Quidditch really fast, and you get distracted by the fact that those aren't human faces you're seeing -- sure it was cool that Violet got so big, but when you saw that the face on her wasn't a real face -- that's where they lost me. As I kid, I found that scene, where all they did was paint the actress' face with blue make-up and fill up her costume with air, scary enough, and you could see her there the whole time, even when the Oompa Loompas turned her on her side and rolled her out of the room. The Violet in the new movie turned into a cartoon and that made it lose the creepiness for me. So the old film definitely wins the Violet competition.
Same goes for Veruca Salt. They were smart and didn't mess with Veruca too much in the new one -- she's still a demanding, bratty little British girl, with a dad who doesn't seem to get the fact that giving her everything she wants has made her into a monster. I believe they changed the geese that lay the golden eggs in the old movie to squirrels who crack and inspect nuts because they were squirrels in the book, and that's fine. But I still don't think you can beat the old Veruca's performance when Willie Wonka won't sell her father one of the golden geese, where she sings the song -- more like a musical tantrum, really -- about how she wants everything now. (One of the things she demands in the song is a "bean feast" -- anyone know what that's about? Maybe I misheard her?) And then she falls down the bad egg chute as she sings the last line. I'm pretty sure that's my favorite scene in the whole movie. In the new movie, the squirrel thing just didn't work for me. For one thing, Veruca's pronunciation of the word "squirrel" is totally annoying. Then, when the squirrels attack her, you pretty much think they're going to start biting chunks out of her, and that's pretty brutal. And then, it takes them forever to throw her down the bad nut hole, and it's hard to believe that they could keep her pinned down that way or that her dad couldn't get down there to get to help her in all that time. I just found it annoying frankly. So the old film definitely wins in the Veruca department too.
Next, the Oompa Loompas -- this one I had to break into parts. I loved the old Oompa Loompas, but come on -- they looked terrible. It was like whoever designed their costumes and make-up didn't even try: "Yeah, let's get some little people, paint their faces orange, slap some ugly green wigs and weird white overalls on them and call it a day. Next!" The Oompa Loompas in the new film are all portrayed by a single actor, a guy named Deep Roy digitally reproduced thousands of times, and I thought he looked great in all of his different costumes and incarnations. So I liked the new Oompa Loompas a lot better, at least until they broke into song. What fan of the 70s movie doesn't love it when the Oompa Loompas sing their song: "Oompa, Loompa, doompity doo, I've got another puzzle for you..." Each time, it's the same song, with different lyrics to spell out the lesson to be taken from the latest child's mishap -- by the end of the movie, you're singing along. They do a little dancing and there's some psychedelic-looking animation, but it's all kept pretty simple. Not so with the new Oompa Loompas -- each time a kid disappears or gets messed up in the new movie, techno music begins to play and it's a full, Vegas-style production number. There's even a synchronized swimming sequence, and I have to admit that was clever, but still -- sometimes less is more. So I give it to the new Oompa Loompas for their look, and the old ones for their musical performances.
Finally -- the ending. I have to say, it never sat right with me the way Gene Wilder's Willie Wonka turned all nice at the end of the first movie, even giving Charlie a big hug in the glass elevator. Obviously, a kid's book is going to have a happy ending; Charlie is the hero and it's fitting for him to "win" the factory because he's a good kid with his heart in the right place, but it's still a dark story about a guy who makes candy and doesn't really like kids at all, so the happy ending is a hard thing to reconcile -- too much sweetness isn't going to work. I felt the new film did a bit better with it by drawing it out and Willie and Charlie having conflict about how it was going to happen -- I also appreciated that there was no particular moment when Willie suddenly learned that family is a wonderful thing, and that he just sort of seemed to quietly become a part of Charlie's family. It was still a bit awkwardly done, but definitely an improvement.
So anyway, there you have it -- my long-winded compare-and-contrast of 1971's "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and 2005's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Who knows, maybe some day when the latter is out on DVD, I'll rent them both and watch them back to back. Maybe I'll change my mind on some things.