Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


When a well-loved movie gets remade, opinions are always divided. Those who hated the first one love the second. Those who loved the first despise the second. Is the remake pointless? Is it perfect? Everything’s so damn subjective! What’s going on? Who can save us from this agressive ambiguity?

The Grapefruit-Man can. Here, for the first time in Grapefruit history, we present a deathmatch of epic proportions!1 The War of the Wonkas! The Championship of the Charlies! Yes, it’s Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory versus Mel Stuart’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory… 5 points a round. No biting or hair pulling. I saw that, Gene Wilder, leave Mike Teavee alone.

Round 1: Charlie

Freddie Highmore is small, weedy, poor-looking and charismatic. Peter Ostrum is tall, has ugly blond hair and looks suspicious. A quick check of IMDB shows this to be his only acting role, discounting appearances in ‘Child Stars: Then And Now’. Which I do. More damning is old-Charlie’s wilful drinking of Wonka’s nifty soda drink. He doesn’t hesitate for a second, he quite happily breaks the rules when Wonka leaves the room. He’s just as bad as the other brats. New-Charlie knows his place. He’s kind, thoughtful but not afraid to stand up to Willy when he has to. And he’s clearly superhuman as he can sleep under a hole in the roof while it’s snowing and survive. No contest.

New: 5, Old: 1.

Round 2: The Buckets

The old-Buckets’ house is kinda crummy looking. The new-Buckets’ house is awesomely crummy looking. However it does have the afore-mentioned hole in roof that seems a bit concerning. New-Grandpa Joe looks old and weary and as if he could conceivably have been in bed for twenty years. Old-Grandpa Joe looks so young and sprightly he must have gotten into bed when he was thirty. Meanwhile, the other new-Oldies2 get decent lines and jokes.

Even in rags, Helena Bonham-Carter is oddly cute, while old-Mrs Bucket looks very weary and mimes an annoying song badly. The old film brutally kills Mr Bucket. Bastards.

New: 4, Old: 1.

Round 3: The Factory

Now, let’s be fair, Burton is making his film in the 21st Century and can get some awesome effects. Which he does. The old film is wonderfully colourful, and has that cool psychadelic trip down the tunnel with the beheaded chicken, and the creepy lights flashing across Gene Wilder’s panicking face. The new film is amazingly colourful and has squirrels checking nuts, instead of a lame padded seat. But no creepy lights.

The new film has a wonderful, imposing looking factory. The old film has a nice factory too, but it’s so far from the pissy little gate that you can barely see it from outside. Something of a mistake this, as it makes it look like a vacant lot with a small and dodgy house in the corner. This is possibly spookier, however: seeing the word ‘Wonka’ light up on the tower far away is a nice touch. This is a tight one. The old factory is somewhat creepier, but the new one has the puppet hospital and burns unit. To decide, we’ll have to look at the great glass elevator…

The new-elevator is glass. The old-one is bronze. How could you get something so simple wrong?

New: 4, Old: 3.

Round 4: The Oompa-Loompas

The old-Oompa-Loompas have creepy orange faces and bobbly knees. I’d be scared of these guys. Nasty looking buggers. Very sinister. The new-Oompa-Loompas are kinda cute, and all have the same face.3 They’re a bit too small to be threatening though.

The old-Oompa Loompas always use the same tune for their songs. It’s funny the first time but it’s a bit tired by the end, although cheesy use of floating words elevates it. The new-Oompa-Loompas do elaborate performances every time, with cool music and amusing facial expressions. However the sound mix is irritatingly bad and you can hardly hear what they say. I’m torn.

New: 4, Old: 4.

Round 5: The Other Kids

In a surprise twist, the new-Kids are less over the top than the old ones. New-Veruca is positively tame in some scenes, and her dad is a bit wet. The new-Violet is alright but her aspirations of getting the record for chewing gum are oddly absent. The new-Augustus is fatter, but his mother refuses to say “Augustus! Save some room for later!” and thus loses a point there. The new-Mike plays video games instead of watching television, which is pretty different to my mind and spoils the song. However, he has a much more interesting final scene when he gets exasperated at Wonka for having invented a teleporter and not realised it. Old-Mike just sort of jumped in.

New: 2, Old: 4.

Round 6: Wonkavision

I’ve just got to mention this. I understand effects have come a long way. But seriously, the wonkavision TV set is just a small box, and you can see the velvet back. Come on, old-Special Effects dude, put some effort into it. Small round, this.

New: 1, Old: 0.

Round 7: Subplot

Ah, the vaguely menacing Mr Slugworth, spookily turning up at the end of every “Golden Ticket” scene. His diet-Evil shadow casts a menacing gloom over the rest of the film, and leads to Charlie’s redemption from “Moron who steals from Wonka” to “Moron who sometimes steals from Wonka”. This is a good sub-plot.

Meanwhile, in new-Town, Willy Wonka has a father, and all the requisite issues you’d expect. Those bloody Americans. At least Christopher Lee and Johnny Depp are reluctant to hug at the end. There’s some good jokes in this plot (Flags of the World, for instance) but it clogs up the ending with a cloying and didactic message that anyone who’s ever seen a Disney film must surely already know. That, combined with the bit with Charlie’s peculiar “Candy doesn’t have to make sense” line, drag the film down to a quite irritating level.

New: 1, Old: 4.

Round 8: Willy Wonka

Super contentious, thiss round. I’m almost afraid to approach it. Scary. So very different, these Wonkas.

Gene Wilder’s Wonka was in control. A bit loopy, but just like his initial fake-hobbling entrance, you get the impression that it’s all a bit of an act. He’s gracious and polite to his guests but unconcerned when they find themselves in danger, delivering with perfect apathy: “Wait, No, Come back.” He’s quite involved in things when they get to the inventing room, adding items and fiddling with things. He’s freaky, friendly, occasionally malevolent but with a ‘heart of gold’. Or something.

Johnny Depp’s Wonka is a kid in an adult body. He sets up an elaborate puppet introduction for himself, with his chair at the centrepoint, but forgets to be sitting in it because he wants to see the show he’s prepared. This Wonka is less about the chocolate and more about the fun in general: an imp completely free from responsibility and unsure how to deal with the kids he’s invited into his home. And, he’s the son of a dentist.

Whereas Wilder’s Wonka tells Charlie: “I couldn’t let an adult take over, he’d want to do things his way,” or words to that effect, new-Wonka is presented on the same level as Charlie. While I din’t particularly enjoy the scenes that followed, the meeting between Charlie and Wonka near the end, when Charlie is polishing Wonka’s shoes, is one of the best of the film, and showcases the differences between the two main characters in the new film. Charlie’s not flustered by Wonka’s rudeness, and stands up to him, while also humouring his attempt at travelling incognito. Wonka has found himself desperate for Charlie’s approval — this isn’t so much a Mentor relationship as a business partnership.

Oh, it’s all too tricky. Wilder sings that “pure imagination” song. Depp improvises a song about chewing gum. Wilder drops cute little sayings everywhere. Depp quotes old song lyrics. Wilder pretends to be loopy. Depp pretends to be normal. Gah. Draw.

New: 5, Old: 5.

Final Score

New: 26, Old: 22.

Looking at the two films in one weekend, the old one suffers from a bit of dullness in the final two rooms. It feels somewhat like they’ve run out of money at this point. The new one is never short of visual flair, but seems a bit schizophrenic in theme. The Depp Wonka is interesting but never lets you get comfortable, and only once shows any hint that he might have some sort of plan working in the background: his efforts with the keys in the nut-sorting room.

I’d like to call it a tie, but let’s face it, one of them is a musical and stars a wet blanket as Charlie. Even if Wilder’s a better Wonka, it’s just not enough.4

  1. This review shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Especially if you had an emotional connection to the first film. I didn’t really see it properly as a kid, and looking at it now I’m only really charmed by Wilder and a few other elements.
  2. Is this naming system getting confusing yet?
  3. The face of Deep Roy, a small man who has gotten much work, including portraying the memorable (but masked) Peking Homonculus in Doctor Who‘s ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ but has also been in quite a few of Burton’s films and is a regular stunt double for kids.
  4. And I didn’t even mention the chocolate palace that Wonka has made for Prince Pondicherry. That’s worth another point too.
You mean, you're the only one? What happened to the others? — Willy Wonka

6 Responses to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

  1. I can’t really dispute any of scores. On paper this seems like a good movie. In practice it felt very flat to me. Depp’s Wonka in particular seemed very poorly defined to me. I’m all for crazy, goofy characters but I didn’t get any sense of the candy-making genius he is supposed to be.

    This was also the first movie I can think of where the special effects spoiled it. The original factory was a world of make-believe and imagination precisely because it didn’t look real – a Neverland which only made sense to children. This factory was, well, a factory (albeit one making very nice chocolate).

  2. I’ve heard it said often that Depp’s Wonka doesn’t seem particularly involved with his factory. He did seem a bit separate from everything which does harm the impression of him as a chocolate making genius; though his indian expedition does sell it a little.

    I don’t agree with you about the factory though. Although as I said, I watched the old one after the new one, the old factory looks average even compared to contemporary Doctor Who episodes, with the notable exception of the first room. Which isn’t a criticism of course, coming from me. But suggesting that people will find a more fake looking factory more convincing than a real one seems equally as flawed as the reverse.

    Also: the Burton Factory contained a mountain range, a huge chocolate tunnel system, and many other rooms that we skimmed past. I wasn’t left with a very factory-ish view of it.

    Sometimes the special effects can spoil a film but on this occasion, for me, they sold it. I didn’t love the movie, but I definitely found it above-average.

  3. I agree with you about the Buckets. The entire family was much more convincing. They were all very likeable. I’m glad to see that Charlie actually loves all his grandparents, and doesn’t just have Grandpa Jo as his obvious favourite. He tended to draw all the focus in the original – in this one while he is certainly present in more scenes in this one, I felt Grandpa George had about equal significance.

    I found it quite moving when Charlie shared his birthday present. I didn’t really expect to be. Charlie really was VERY good.

    Anyway there are heaps of reasons why the new Buckets are better than the old, although I can’t say that the original Grandpa Jo actor being 10 years younger is on my list.

    As for the factory exterior, the original definitely felt spookier and in a state of disrepair (which I liked), although that was possibly how the characters presented it as well. No scary old man rattling tin cans at the gate. And I did see it when I was 7 so I’m not sure I can trust my younger self.

  4. I was being a little facetious I’ll admit, about the age thing, but I was impressed with how wasted Joe looked — it was more impressive I felt when he managed to get out of bed.

    Yeah… when you’re old, the scary old man looks kind of lame, and you’re not scared so much as puzzled that some guy would be selling stuff outside a deserted factory. And knives, of all things. But that’d be scary to a kid I’m sure.

  5. Old version creams the New Version – i found Johnny Depp distasteful, the dentist subplot was beyond ridiculous and Tim Burton has too much of an ego not to leave his mark on the movie. Haven’t we seen the warped house before in The nightmare before Christmas?, Beetlejuice, and that bride movie that came out last year with Helena Bonham carter and Johnny depp as voices?

    Sooo disappointed in this movie. The only thing I agree with you is that the new Charlie comes off a lot better than the old one. The old Charlie was practically begging for sympathy.But Grampa Joe and Gene Wilder made the last movie.

    Anyways 4 stars to the old movie and 1 and ½ stars for the new one – and its lucky to get that as well.

  6. Do you have a problem with warped houses? Are you house-ist, James? You could call it ego or you could call it style. I like having a some filmmakers as distinctive as Burton wandering around.

    You mean this bride movie??

    Sometimes I feel I should have given the win to the old one. I honestly did just pick categories and add it up at the end. Unfortunately weighting the categories equally harms the older film. Wilder is undeniably magical. Not so keen on Grandpa Joe in the old movie though. I think the new one deserves more stars that 1 and a half though. I didn’t mind the dentistry at first but it soon became apparent it was a dull Father/Son plot and I didn’t like it.