Who doesn't want this job?
Looking for an heir to his chocolate empire, reclusive chocolatier extraordinaire Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) opens the gates of his factory to five children who have won Golden Tickets for a tour. As they get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into Wonka's twisted world, he weeds them out and finds the winner. But does the winner want the prize? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is Tim Burton's take on Roald Dahl's classic book.
How dare they?
The generations who grew up watching Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory couldn't imagine another version. When I read the news that Tim Burton was "remaking" it with Johnny as the chocolatier, I was simultaneously ridiculously excited to see it and worried about the inevitable impending fury awaiting them from loyal fans of the original. I wasn't alone: "As soon as I said that I was in, I knew there were going to be great risks involved because we could very easily blow it," Johnny says. "But again, that's very exciting for an actor. It's a challenge. It's a very loved character, both from the book and Gene Wilder's brilliant performance from that earlier film. So, I knew that the risk was that I had to take it from somewhere far way from the area that Gene Wilder had stomped. There's a twisted, perverted kind of side to the character, and so I ran in the direction that seemed right to me."
Pretty quickly, everyone involved in the film clarified what they were doing: This movie is not a remake; their focus is to stay true to the book. To help with the distinction, the two films even have different titles. While I grew up watching and loving the Gene Wilder classic (and still do), I always think of this one as separate and different. This one is a Tim Burton movie, and Tim Burton movies are unmistakably Tim Burton movies. I knew it couldn't go near anything like Gene Wilder's Wonkavision. Tim Burton even had the Dahl family's blessing, with Felicity Dahl serving as one of the executive producers. Everything would be okay.
Really, what's the difference?
"We just decided, when I got involved with it, to just go back to the basics and try to be as true to the book as we could be," Tim Burton says. Screenwriter John August can attest that Johnny was in on this plan too: "When I sat down with Johnny to talk about the character and as we were looking through the last three of four dialogue changes, what I loved is that he pulled out his Roald Dahl book and wanted to go through and add in a few extra lines from Dahl's original book." Dramatizing the book did call for some deviations, but it all seems to work. "Even with the things we added, we tried to at least channel the spirit of Roald Dahl," Tim Burton says.
The film spends more time exploring who Willy Wonka is: How did he become a chocolate magnate? Why did he close his factory for 20 years? Why does he need an heir? Once all those questions were answered, they added some closure to all his issues at the end. (Willy Wonka has some serious issues!)
I recently read a fan's take on the two films, observing that the Gene Wilder version focuses more on a child's innocent love for candy while Johnny's version shows the greedy side. I'd agree with that.
Willy Wonka is weird.
Despite the critics, this film did really well at the box office and is popular among a new generation of fans. These days, it's on TV just as often as Gene Wilder's version, and as I've watched it over the years, Johnny's Willy Wonka has really grown on me. He's supposed to be eccentric, bizarre, and questionable. Who pulls that off any better than Johnny? I admire his subtle moments amid the gam-show atmosphere in which, with a quick look or move, Johnny makes you wonder if you should feel sorry for Willy Wonka or call the police about him. As Felicity Dahl says of Johnny, "he just has that twist, that humor, that wickedness, that naughtiness, that delight that Wonka should have."
Johnny's first inspiration for Willy Wonka was a local children's television show host, "a guy who certainly puts on a face every day." Tim Burton explains further, "You don't question it as a kid, but as you got older, you kind of go, 'That guy was really wierd!' So, we sort of got into that kind of thinking about those kinds of people that stay in your subconscious somehow."
Being a recluse for 20 years with only Oompa Loompas for company, Johnny figured that Willy Wonka is stuck in an era of the past, makes old references from that time, and doesn't know how to relate to people anymore, least of all children. This guy didn't get out in the sun, which is why he's so pale, and he has that awful haircut. (I think that haircut disturbs me more than anything else.)
As a result, at times, Johnny's laugh-out-loud funny in this movie, especially when interacting with his guests. "I always like working with Johnny because he's an actor who likes to try different things all the time, and that excites me," Tim Burton says. "And, each time I work with him, it gets better." Co-star David Kelly, who plays Grandpa Joe, agrees, "Watching Johnny, you can't see the wheels going round. You keep saying to yourself, 'how is he doing that?' I don't know!"
Welcome to the factory.
The Oompa Loompas are all played by the same person, Deep Roy, who I think got the hardest job of all. Every shot of an Oompa Loompa doing something new--dancing, playing an instrument, making a face--is all him. They used a combination of animatronics and computer graphics to multiply his work in the musical numbers. For one scene, they may have shot him in various spots doing different things 60 times and then compiled everything together into one. His days must have been long.
Willy Wonka's World
I love that Tim Burton goes old school: As much as possible, he had real sets built so the actors could really get a feel for it. "Willy Wonka--It's kind of all about texture," he explains. "It was important for us to build the sets, make a real chocolate river, make a real chocolate waterfall....To have as many real things for them to react to, I think, was really important. If you're in one of those green screen rooms for too long, you know, you start to go kind of nuts after a while."
The rooms in the factory are a treat for the senses; each is unique with its own character. As Johnny describes it, "the factory itself is like walking through Wonka's brain--complicated, strange, fun, disturbing, outrageous." Only on a Tim Burton movie would you have Squirrel Training Camp for a scene in the Nut Room. Again, they used a combination of animatronics and computer graphics. For this scene, they created a room full of 200 busy squirrels on the job, 40 of which are real, very talented nutcrackers.
The Chocolate Room is the stunner, where edible delights abound! Johnny remembers visiting Pinewoods Studio early on in production and seeing the production designer practicing chemistry in a bucket to concoct the perfect chocolaty mixture. "I came back a couple months later, and the bucket had turned into huge vats. There were millions of liters of this chocolate flowing!" It took them 5 days to fill the studio with it. Seeing the final result, Felicity Dahl approves: "When I went to Pinewood and saw the whole of the Pinewood lot covered in Wonka, I knew if Roald had seen that, he would have just said, 'This is what I had in my mind.'"
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was nominated for an Oscar for costume design. While it didn't win that, it was nominated for a bunch of other awards and won a couple for favorite family film. Freddie Highmore won a best actor award from the Broadcast Film Critics. And, despite his controversial performance, Johnny earned a couple of acting awards too. Was there ever any doubt?
The Kitties are all about the candy.
On February 1, Willy Wonka opened his factory gates to five children and their parents for a tour. With the Oompa Loompas (Simon) always on the job, Willy Wonka whittles down his choices to find the perfect heir to his fortune. Greedy Agustus Gloop (Norman) gets sucked out of The Chocolate Room. Competitive Violet Beauregarde (Mini) balloons into a blueberry. Squirrels toss spoiled Veruca Salt (Lily) down the garbage shoot, and cheater (or "Mumbler!") Mike Teavee (B.J.) shrinks down to size after he breaks some rules. In the end, both Charlie (Comet), who inherits the candy-making business, and Willy Wonka, who is warmly welcomed into Charlie's family, are the lucky winners!
Johnny gets animated and accidentally married in Tim Burton's Corpse Bride!
Image credits: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Images © Warner Brothers Pictures; image of Tim Burton with Johnny Depp © unknown; illustration © Melissa Connolly