Tag Archives: Roald Dahl

CAPSULE: CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Freddie Highmore, David Kelly,  Annasophia Robb, Julia Winter, Jordan Fry, Philip Wiegratz, ,

PLOT: Poor, good-natured Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) wins a coveted Golden Ticket to visit the fabulous chocolate factory owned by the mysterious Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp); once there, Charlie discovers that all of his fellow school-aged winners are hateful brats, and Mr. Wonka seems to have a few screws loose himself…

Still from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although it’s deliciously weird in the usual Tim Burton manner, this is probably the most benign and family-friendly of all his films. Even Frankenweenie is scarier.

COMMENTS: When Tim Burton’s visually sumptuous film of Roald Dahl’s 1964 book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opened in 2005, there was much discussion of how the late Mr. Dahl felt that the earlier, classic 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory had toned down his often mean-spirited material. (This opinion was a little strange, considering that Dahl had written the screenplay.) The new film, it was said, was much more faithful to the book. Truth be told, both pictures hew very closely to the novel; but, although this might sound like sacrilege, Burton’s film is more impressive in almost every way than the earlier Gene Wilder movie. (Incidentally, the 1971 film was not very popular with anyone when it originally opened; it was only later that a whole new audience embraced the movie on television.) The 2005 version is by far the better directed and designed of the two films, but, although Johnny Depp’s Wonka is utterly delightful, he doesn’t come close to projecting the genuine menace, and, ironically enough, the fatherly warmth that Wilder did. Wilder gave a full-fledged, three-dimensional performance; Depp, while he is great fun to watch, is basically playing a cartoon. Of course, for those of us who saw the earlier film as children, Wilder made a tremendous impact. Who knows what the kids of 2005 felt when they saw Depp?

Mr. Depp looks and sounds something like Michael Jackson here (although he has Anna Wintour’s hair), and all the color has been digitally drained from his face. This Willy Wonka hates kids, and with good reason. Burton’s film makes it clear that the brats all survive their punishments in Wonka’s factory (another reason why this won’t make the List), while the 1971 version left their fates up in the air. The 2005 film does include some sequences from the book not in the earlier film, like the memorable bit where the tiresome Veruca Salt (Julia Winter) is attacked by nut-cracking squirrels, and the adventures of Prince Pondicherry (Nitin Ganatra). But some of screenwriter John August’s all-new additions, such as the revelation that Wonka’s estranged father (Christopher Lee) is a dentist, feel unnecessary. (The flashback to the young, candy-loving Wonka’s bad teeth and increasingly grotesque retainers are grisly fun, though, like something out of Little Shop of Horrors). Thankfully, Depp and Highmore, who co-starred together a year earlier in Finding Neverland, have good chemistry. The fact that Highmore is now playing psychotic killer Norman Bates on TV’s Bates Motel makes it look like another collaboration with Tim Burton would be a good idea.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The wondrous surfaces have a weird undercurrent that won’t go away… Before the trip is over, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ has gone from delectable to curdled, and Depp’s performance has shrunk from bizarrely riveting to one-note and vaguely creepy, turning Willy Wonka into yet another of Burton’s antisocial weirdoes. But then this is scarcely the first time a Burton film has started out great only to lose its way with fanciful doodlings and lack of secure moorings.”–Todd McCarthy, Variety (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH (1996)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Paul Terry, Joanna Lumley, Miriam Margoyles, Pete Postlethwaite, Steven Culp, , , Jane Leeves, , Simon Callow

PLOT: A boy rides a giant peach across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City.
Still from James and the Giant Peach (1996)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a light-hearted fantasy film for children, and fantasy isn’t necessarily weird just because it’s fantastical. Also, the movie tones down some of the darker elements of the original 1961 source novel by the delightfully mean-spirited .

COMMENTS: Orphaned James (Paul Terry, in his only film) is mistreated, Cinderella-style, by his cruel aunts, the angular Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and the portly Sponge (Miriam Margoyles). When a mystery man (Pete Postlethwaite) gives James a jar of magical crocodile tongues–which are supposed to solve all of James’ problems, although he doesn’t understand why–James loses them in the grass near the roots of a dead tree. The next day, a peach that was in the grass has grown to the size of a house, and the insects inside the fruit—a centipede (voiced by Richard Dreyfuss), a Russian spider (Susan Sarandon), a ladybug (Jane Leeves), an earthworm (David Thewlis), a grasshopper (Simon Callow) and a glowworm (Margoyles again)—are now taller than James, who takes off with the bugs inside the now-rolling peach to New York City.

This somewhat obscure Disney production is a masterpiece of beautiful and stunning stop-motion animation, directed by Henry Selick, who helmed the equally dazzling 1993 classic The Nightmare Before Christmas (contrary to popular belief,  did not direct Nightmare, although he did co-produce and co-write the film, as well as design its distinctive look.) This one is not, however, a masterpiece of storytelling. Even at a mere 79 minutes, James and the Giant Peach feels like a rather thin—although marvelous—children’s book stretched out to feature-length. The filmmakers added episodes not in the novel, such as an encounter with ghostly pirates (including one that’s a dead ringer for Nightmare protagonist Jack Skellington) to flesh out the plot.

Also threaded throughout the proceedings are a number of songs by Randy “Short People” Newman, although they sound more like conventional showtunes than the low-key ditties he penned for many Pixar films. The all-star voice cast is not known for their singing, and this film does nothing to change that. Richard Dreyfuss is at his most abrasive as the cigar-chomping centipede (the only American character in the story), but casting the glamorous Jane Leeves  (“Frasier”) as the ladybug—a jolly old British matron—is a nice change of pace. The film’s most memorable performances come courtesy of Joanna Lumley (“Absolutely Fabulous”) and Miriam Margoyles, who are made up to look especially ghoulish in the film’s opening and closing live-action sequences, although their monstrous Aunt characters are spared the dire fates they had in the book. (Aunts Spiker and Sponge seem to be a clear influence on Harry Potter’s horrible Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia.) There’s plenty of visual razzmatazz on display here, but ultimately the film is less memorable than either Nightmare or Selick’s superb later effort Coraline.

Since James and the Giant Peach is a relatively little-known film, Disney gives its Blu-ray release short shrift (by their standards) in the extras department. There’s a game, a music video, a “making of” featurette that runs a whopping four-and-a-half minutes, the movie’s trailer, and a gallery of fifty-nine “Behind the Scenes” still photographs.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…shines with weird, whimsical invention.”–Stephen Rea, The Philadelphia Inquirer (contemporaneous)

104. WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)

“What is this, a freak out?”–Violet Beauregarde

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Mel Stuart

FEATURING: Gene Wilder, Peter Ostrum, Jack Albertson, Julie Dawn Cole

PLOT:  Charlie is a poor boy supporting his mother and four bedridden grandparents with the earnings from his paper route.  When eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka announces he will be awarding a lifetime supply of chocolate and a tour of his mysterious candy factory to the finders of five golden tickets, Charlie wants to win more than anything.  When he, along with four bratty companions, finally meets the exceedingly odd Mr. Wonka,  Charlie finds the factory, and its owner, far stranger and more magical than anything he could have imagined.

Still from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

BACKGROUND:

  • A note for those who believe product placement and corporate tie-ins are a recent phenomenon in movies: although this film was based on Roald Dahl’s bestelling children’s novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” it was retitled to incorporate the Wonka name in order to promote the release of real-life Wonka candy bars (which were still made up until 2010) by Quaker Oats, who financed the production.
  • Dahl himself wrote the original script, but it was extensively rewritten by an uncredited David (The Hellstrom Chronicles) Seltzer, reportedly to Dahl’s displeasure.  (It’s worth noting that Dahl, like most authors, pretty much hated every adaptation of his work).
  • This was the only movie Peter Ostrum (Charlie) ever acted in.
  • The movie just broke even at the box office, but became a cult sensation thanks to television screenings and home video.  In 2003, Entertainment Weekly ranked Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as the 25th biggest cult movie of all time.
  • The score was nominated for a “Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score” Oscar but lost to Fiddler on the Roof.
  • Despite the fact that he was rejected for the role of the candy shop owner in the film, Sammy Davis, Jr.’s 1972 rendition of the film’s first musical number, “The Candy Man,” became a #1 hit and a staple of his live shows.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton‘s 2005 adaptation of the same material with as Wonka, is somewhat closer to Dahl’s original novel.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Wonka’s face, bathed in flashing red and green lights, as he shrieks incoherently at the end of his terrifying trip down a psychedelic tunnel of horrors.  It’s the capping image of a horrifying scene that’s been scarring unsuspecting children for 40 years now.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Is it Gene Wilder’s ultra-eccentric performance as the charming but vaguely demonic candyman in a purple velvet jacket and burgundy top hat who suavely arranges for wicked children to hang themselves with the licorice ropes of their own vice? Or the chorus of orange-faced, green haired, dwarf laborers who sing moralizing “Oompah Loompah” tunes after each victim ironically offs him or herself? No, we all know it’s the bad trip boat ride, where Wonka recites Edgar Allan Poe inspired verse (“By the fires of Hell a’ glowing/Is the grisly reaper mowing?”) as the craft careens down a tunnel of horrors while colored strobe lights flash and avant-garde footage plays on the walls that tips this celebration of imagination into the weird column.


Original trailer for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

COMMENTS: When I was a kid, they used to play Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on Continue reading 104. WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)