WWhen confirmation came last month that the Warner Bros.-planned prequel to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was officially underway, with Paddington’s Paul King as director and Timothée Chalamet to star in the youngest incarnation of Roald Dahl’s quirky chocolatier. , the news was not as surprising as it was deflating. Origin stories are all the rage these days, and the idea of one for Wonka has been around in the industry for a few years. Do people cry out for it? Well, Hollywood franchises tend to run on the basis of “if we build it they will come” lately, so maybe a little adventure in Wonka is just what the masses didn’t know they wanted.
Sure, Tim Burton and screenwriter John August tried to forge a Wonka backstory – a lot of fatherly issues, naturally – in 2005’s lavish but underpriced Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and no one cared too much about that. But that was then, when Chalamet was still in shorts: In Hollywood’s days, that intellectual property has practically crystallized with age.
After all, this week marks the full 50 years since the first big screen stab of Dahl’s 1964 bestseller was released, making Wonka an enduring figure of fascination for generations of children, while the ostensible hero from Dahl’s story: a healthy 11-year-old. Charlie Bucket doll – faded into its shadow with top hat. No one has ever expressed interest in Charlie spinoff movies, while Dahl’s 1972 sequel Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator has remained unfilmed. It’s Wonka, the strangely sadistic capitalist boy-man wizard who cares about the devil, of whom the people and producers can’t get enough, and who can blame them? Wonka is strange, dry and inscrutable; Charlie is sweetly selfless and harmless.
It was Mel Stuart’s 1971 film that said this most directly, changing the title of Dahl’s beloved book to make Wonka the eponymous character. Half a century later, his legacy is based on the funny and mysteriously understated portrayal of Wonka, a sweet and sinister antihero who has haunted as many dreams as memes; Much of the film that surrounds it is mechanical and cheesy in comparison, but you don’t remember those parts, so it hardly matters. Few films so uneven have achieved the status of a classic appreciated for the strength of a single performance; On the other hand, it’s Johnny Depp’s cold and nasty twist on Wonka that has largely sunk the reputation of the 2005 remake by comparison, despite Burton’s film easily surpassing Stuart’s in cinematic verve. and vitality.
Dahl himself would be exasperated by the 1971 film’s resilience. Although he was nominally listed as its screenwriter, his original adaptation was barely detectable beneath all sorts of unacredited rewrites, and he expressed disdain for the outcome, Wilder and all. His list of complaints was long: Dahl had wanted the arch-British quirk of Spike Milligan or Peter Sellers for Wonka, he was unhappy with the close-up of Wonka’s Charlie movie, bothered by the plot alterations and additions that muddied the story. cautious neatness of its original story. , and he was not a fan of the cheerful score by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.
An author who does not care about a creatively divergent adaptation of his book is, of course, not a press stop scandal. But after seeing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for the first time since my own childhood, where he was a VHS staple in 1980s classrooms and friends’ houses, I am inclined to think he was right. Stuart’s movie is a weird, awkward beast, built from separate parts: a bit of Dahl’s Brothers Grimm’s up-to-date misanthropy, lots of cuter trends in 1970s family entertainment, and fading vapors. from Hollywood’s blockbuster musical craze of the previous decade, fitting as elegantly as Lego, Meccano, and Play-Doh.
Stuart, a hardworking filmmaker so far best known for documentaries and sitcom-like farces, directed it with a choppy, frenetic pace and erratic sense of pace – it’s a stately 45 minutes before Wonka even makes his first appearance, thereby the film rushes through its fantastic factory settings with professional nonchalance.
The $ 3 million budget was tight, and it shows, until the Munich shooting, too detectable. The production design of the much vaunted factory is a feat of papier-mâché ingenuity rather than a whim of free roaming, often looking too industrial to capture the imagination – you’ll never want to test the screen the way Wonka invites its guests. invited to lick the wallpaper. (Not to mention the chocolate river: why is Augustus Gloop downing what looks like fine, mud-stained dishwater?) As a fan of Dahl’s books, I was never wowed by the movie as a kid, and now I see Why: The book generates mental images of near-impossible scale and extravagance, while in the movie, you feel the corners and ceiling of every space.
Stuart’s movie sums up what made Dahl’s children’s books, despite their liveliness and vivid imagery, so difficult to film. Almost every other creator’s attempt to grapple with his singularly morbid and provocative narrative sensibilities, that gleefully cruel edge that so delighted unsentimental children even as it confused many of their parents, plays like a compromise. (The Witches, Nicolas Roeg’s gleefully vicious, high-end version of Dahl’s scariest book, came closer, only to bottle it up with an altered and simplified happy ending that also infuriated the author.)
And so the film honors the antisocial and unfriendly coldness of Wonka’s children, to the point of leaving the fates of most of its young characters unresolved. (The book’s coda, which details the survival of the children, is removed from a hasty ending.) However, it also muffles him in starry-eyed romance, from the opening bars of his signature song Candy Man, which posits Wonka as a joy-spreading visionary. who just wants to make the world taste good. Are you an idealist of pure imagination or a cunning commercial opportunist and culture colonizer? The film defused the NAACP-fueled controversy over the book’s racialized description of Wonka’s Oompa-Loompa workforce by turning them into orange-faced alien beings, but the bitter taste remains.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory never decides who he is, and after half a century, the movie, despite Wilder’s inspired and brilliant twist, still doesn’t feel comfortable as a result. Will Hollywood’s next attempt to solve Wonka’s riddle solve it? Dahl is most likely still turning in his grave, although as he himself wrote, “You must never, never doubt something that no one is sure of.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism