Revisiting Tim Burton’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

Our look back at the work of TIm Burton arrives at his take on Roald Dahl's Charlie And The Chocolate Factory...

Everything in this room is eatable, even I’m eatable! But that is called cannibalism, my dear children, and is, in fact, frowned upon in most societies. – Willy Wonka

The Recap

By the mid noughties, Tim Burton had found success at the box office with both Planet Of The Apes and Big Fish; however, his next project would become a bona fide worldwide smash hit and introduce a whole new audience to the world of Willy Wonka.

Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) lives a poor and simple life with his parents and two sets of grandparents in a small house near to the Wonka Candy Company, the finest confectionary maker in the world. For years the factory has been closed to the outside world due to industrial espionage, but Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) has now begun a competition by placing five golden tickets inside his chocolate bars, with the prize being a tour of the factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate.

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With nearly everybody on the planet wanting to win, Wonka bars become almost as precious as the tickets themselves and in no time at all the first four tickets are discovered. The first by greedy chocolate loving German, Augustus Gloop, the second by English brat Veruca Salt, the third by American gum chewer Violet Beauregarde and the fourth by fellow American TV and videogame addict Mike Teavee.

Unable to afford to buy chocolate bars in bulk, Charlie has two attempts at finding the tickets, firstly with his birthday chocolate bar and secondly with a bar his grandfather buys him especially. With both of them coming up blanks and a fifth ticket being claimed in Russia, Charlie gives up on his dream of going inside the famed factory.

When Charlie finds some money on the street he decides to give it to his family, but not before purchasing himself a Wonka bar, which he finds holds the last real golden ticket, just as it is announced the ticket from Russia was forged.

After turning down big cash offer, Charlie decides to take his Grandpa Joe (David Kelly) on the tour with him as he used to work at the factory.

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After a lavish but ultimately unsuccessful opening musical number, Willy Wonka takes the children and their guardians into the factory, all of whom are unaware of what awaits them inside. When each of the children disrespect Wonka’s wishes, wanting to take something for themselves, they get their comeuppance. Augustus falls into the chocolate river and is sucked up a pipe, Violet turns into a blueberry, Veruca falls down a rubbish chute and Mike shrinks down to TV size. When each child’s ‘punishment’ is completed, the new Wonka workers, the Oompa-Loompas come out and sing a song.

As the last child standing, Wonka offers Charlie the chance to live and work at the factory with him, but only if he leaves his family behind, as after a strained relationship with his own father, Wonka believes family is a hindrance. Unwilling to swap his family for his dream life, Charlie turns down the offer, which eventually leaves Wonka too depressed to make his creations and goes back to Charlie who makes him visit his father and the two patch up their differences, leading Wonka to offer Charlie the factory, this time with no strings attached.

Thoughts & Reaction

Since the 1971 adaptation, which Roald Dahl hated, the rights to Charlie And The Chocolate Factory had remained under lock and key. In 1998, Warner Bros. finally got permission from his estate to purchase the rights, but only if they remained in total artistic control, including having the final say on the director, writers and actors used.

Due to this vehement clause, the development of the final film languished until 2004. In that time directors such as Rob Minkoff, Tom Shadyac, Gary Ross and Martin Scorsese (how much would I have loved to see that movie) were linked to the project, with actors such as Michael Keaton, Nicholas Cage, Jim Carrey, Will Smith and Brad Pitt linked to the role of Wonka.

It wasn’t until Warners came to the estate with Burton (whose production of James And The Giant Peach won him the job) in tow, that the estate was finally pleased and work on the movie pushed ahead.

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For the movie’s script, Burton decided to work again with Big Fish writer John August, which you can’t help but notice within the movie, especially with the added storyline of Wonka’s relationship with his father. The script was a bit of a bone of contention with the studio, who felt that Wonka should be the main father figure and wanted to scrap the new storyline of his relationship with his own father and take out Mr. Bucket completely for Wonka to fill his shoes. Thankfully, Burton stuck to his guns, and once the completed version of the script passed approval by the estate, shooting could begin.

Much to nobody’s surprise, Johnny Depp was Burton’s only choice for the lead role and the two went about creating what Wonka would be about, basing him on children’s television hosts but making him look like Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.

On Depp’s recommendation, Burton auditioned and gave the title role to British newcomer Freddie Highmore, who had left an impression on Depp after their work together on Finding Neverland. With the rest of the cast in place (including Burton’s partner, Helena Bonham Carter, as Charlie’s mother), filming began in June of 2004 and carried through until the end of the year due to the working children’s law, with the majority of the cast only being allowed to work four and a half hours a day.

Creating the world of Wonka became a larger project than anybody could have imagined. Although it feels like this is the most polished and CGI effects laden of Burton’s films, in fact, he stuck to his guns and wanted as much of the film as possible to be filmed without computer effects, going as far as to make a real chocolate river and using real squirrels in the nut room.

As a child who grew up watching Gene Wilder in the title role, I have to admit, personally, this film did let me down slightly. Burton did do an amazing job behind the camera, bringing a more authentic version of Dahl’s world to life. But it felt ever so slightly fake when held up against the 1971 version, which, because there were very little special effects about, forced them to make everything from scratch, thus making it seem more real. When you compare the scenes if where they first enter the factory to the chocolate room, for example, the awe inspiring scene in the original movie blows anything the newer one did out of the water.

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A further gripe I had was with the children. Although they were bratty and pretty awful in this movie, they were just not vile enough to warrant the punishments delivered to them. Again, I look back to the 1971 version and the children were really just horrible little creatures whom you wanted to get what was coming to them. I really felt nothing either way in this version, which is a shame as that is the one part of the book the first movie got right, but the newer one didn’t.

Johnny Depp’s stepped admirably into the role of Wonka with gusto, a strange mix of man and child who has lived in his fantastical chocolate world for so long he has totally lost touch with reality. He is rather strange, but not creepy and that is the balance you need for a movie like this. Freddie Highmore as Charlie holds his own against the character of Wonka and, in fact, holds the film together, in a way, with his childhood innocence and strong morals.

A worldwide smash upon release, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory became the kids’ film of the year and rocketed the novel it was based on up the New York Times best seller list of the remainder of the year.

Burton’s next film would see him making a return to stop animation and creating a new set of unusual and wonderful characters in The Corpse Bride.

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory Info:Released: July 15th 2005 (US) / July 29th 2005 (UK)Distributed By: Warner Bros.Budget: $150,000,000Box Office Gross: $474,968,763Best DVD Edition: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory Two-Disc Deluxe Edition

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