Sunday, July 17, 2005

Cry Me A River (Of Chocolate)

This evening I had the pleasure of going out with the family to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the new cinematic version of Roald Dahl's novel that was made into Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when I was a boy. This may well be the first time that I have been to see both an original movie and the remake during their respective first runs. (I even owned a copy of the Willie Wonka soundtrack on vinyl.) It's hard to believe that thirty-four years have passed since the original screen adaptation was released. The kids in the 1971 version were all older than me. In the new one, some of the parents are younger than me. Time flies when you're all grown up.

Why do a new version of the movie that starred Gene Wilder as the reclusive candy factory operator? In a lot of ways, the old one doesn't hold up as well. Children's movies in general sucked in the 1970s. Walt Disney died in 1966, and the whole industry seemed to die with him. It took nearly 25 years for Disney animators to achieve the standards that their predecessors had set during Walt's lifetime, and soon enough the major film studios began making quality films -- animated, live action, and CGI -- for young folks again.

Based on this evening's audience reaction, C&TCF is a major hit. I have never read the book, so I can't comment on the closeness or looseness of the adaptation. Having seen both theatrical versions, I can say that I much prefer Tim Burton's. Burton is a notorious eccentric, and always creates a delightfully eccentric film with loads of joyfully eccentric characters. He also loads the cast with impressive performers; half the fun of a Tim Burton film is spotting people whom I know I have seen somewhere else, I just can't place them right now. When I returned home, IMDB helped immensely.

For instance, I immediately recognized the candy shop man, who (thank goodness) does not jump around behind the counter and sing Sammy Davis Jr. songs. "That's the guy who played Tony Carpenter in Eastenders twenty years ago", and sure enough I was right. Another actor whom I should have recognized was Garrick Hagon, who is best known as Biggs Darklighter, the mustache from Tattooine whom Darth Vader blew out of the sky at the Battle of Yavin IV. He had a very brief scene as a reporter getting comments from Mike Teavee in Denver.

My younger son, the light saber enthusiast, should have recognized Dr. Wilbur Wonka. It was so obvious! Count Dooku! Darth Tyranus! He was even acting like an evil Sith in the flashback sequences! But no, I had to explain it to the boy.

The Oompa Loompas are quite different this time around; I can no longer refer to them as "the George Washington guys" as I did when I was a kid. For one thing, there is only one actor playing all of the little fellows. It's actually not as creepy as seeing the same head poking out of the Trooper uniforms in Revenge of the Sith. But again, this is a Tim Burton film. When everything is creepy, nothing is. The actor, Deep Roy, played Mr Sin the Peking Homunculus in a Doctor Who story called "The Talons of Weng-Chiang". (It's too long to explain. Don't ask.) The songs are rowdier and meaner than the Oompa Loompa songs from the Gene Wilder movie, in which the little guys tended to be annoyingly preachy. These Oompas are just there, doing what they are supposed to be doing, naturally. The original Oompas scared the living hell out of me. There was a belligerent nightmarish quality to them. The new Oompas are given an actual origin, which makes them seem more like humans and less like demons of terror.

Augustus Gloop has barely changed at all. Yay Augustus! He's a happy fat German boy who eats tons of chocolate while living in the sausage maker's shop that his father runs. Throw in a beer keg, and this is pretty close to my idea of heaven.

When I left the theater, I desperately wanted to go out and buy big chocolate bars for all of the kids. Instead, I took the family to the grocery store and bought things like lettuce, tomatoes, and olives. I must really love my family to screw them over like that.

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