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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory vs. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory vs. Roald Dahl

July 3, 2011

First of all, let’s clear up the name situation. The children’s novel by Roald Dahl is called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The 1970 film version with Gene Wilder is called Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. One theory as to why the name was changed is that at the time the word Charlie was a derogatory term for a black person. (Did not know that.) Another is because Quaker Oats, believe it or not, is the company who funded the project and was planning on releasing a line of candy under the name Wonka – making the movie title inherent advertising. The remake in 2005 with Johnny Depp (bless his sexy little heart) is called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And the name is not the only thing they got right that Willy didn’t.

Yes, everyone loves the 1970 version because it’s happy and chocolate-covered and non-creepy. (I have to admit that sometimes I just watch the opening credits, turn it off, and go make brownies. Or at least brownie batter.) As a film and as a part of my very early childhood, I also treasure the film. However. How it holds up as an adaptation is another story.

Anyone who has read the book has to (grudgingly) admit that the uber-creepy 2005 film is a more faithful reconstruction. And I don’t just mean in terms of plotline. Roald Dahl is a creepy dude, folks. Have you read The BFG? The friggin‘ giants are eating people!! I was in college when I read it and I was a little disturbed! That’s not a judgment against creepiness. He does a fantastic job with it. As did my lover Johnny Depp. That’s one of the things I love about Roald Dahl. Things don’t work out perfectly in the end. They just work out. Mike Teevee has insanely large feet at the end of the book because of the taffy puller. It’s not ideal, but he’s alive. There are no placid geese laying golden chocolate eggs or whatever they were. There are, however, vicious little squirrels doing stuff with nuts. (Shut up. There is no nondirty way to use the word “nuts” anymore.)

This is not just my idle, militant English major opinion. While Dahl wrote the screenplay and is the only one credited for it, the producer had Daniel Seltzer (The Omen) rewrite the script. Dahl was furious with the end product because it “it focused too much on the Wonka character and not enough on Charlie, and it had sweetened his story’s dark tone. He refused to allow the movie to be remade again in his lifetime or to sell the film rights to the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” (MovieFone). He died in 1990.

I will now say what I will say in every article about an adaptation: a good adaptation is not about following the original author’s plot perfectly; it is about preserving the author’s intention. Willy Wonka (1970) is a great little film that will be present in my own childrens‘ lives. But it is a philandering version of the novel. Charlie (2005) is the most faithful not just in plot but also in mood, vibe, and original authorial intent.       


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