Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Replace that boat with a TARDIS...and you've got the
bestest Doctor ever.
"Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three."

1) You know what's the first thing I missed about the Burton version? The little side skits throughout this version which fill in both Charlies' life and the world of the film as a whole. They're chockful of great performances by great character actors and comedians (my favorite is the one involving a computer programmer played by one third of The Goodies--and Peter Davison lookalike--Tim Brooke-Taylor) and set up the sensibilities of the film...

2) ...and the most remarkable thing about this film, watching it now, is how it seems to anticipate the 'One For The Kids/One For The Adults' structure of pretty much all the kid's cartoons today. Director Mel Stuart and screenwriter Roald Dahl never forget that they have to entertain the adults as well as the kids in the audience

3) Even though I prefer David Kelly's version of Grampa Joe (even when he's bedridden, Jack Albertson looks far, far too spry), the one thing both films get right is the deep bond between that character and Charlie. Especially in this film, where the parents are given much more shading than they do in the Burton version, it's essential we believe in the familial love between the two--and that it's his influence that shapes Charlie's honesty.

4) Another thing that impresses me about the Stuart version--the other kids feel like, you know, kids. I didn't realize how thoroughly grotesque the Burton children are (save for the Burton Veruca, who I knew was a Demon Child from that first horrifying rictus grin of hers) until I saw the more naturalistic versions of the other four children. As such, their behaviors seem more realistically awful, which makes their fates all the more horrific. And speaking of horrific...

5) This version of the film isn't all that far away from being a real horror story--not the least because we never, ever see the other four children after disaster befalls them. All we get is Gene Wilder's assurance that they're perfectly fine, which doesn't work because--

6) In this film, Gene Wilder is terrifying. This is why I prefer Wilder to Depp. Wilder rarely raises his voice, does not engage in any of the overt physical tics and eccentricities that Depp positively wallows in...and as a result, he's borderline menacing. I particularly like how he 'calls for help' as each of these children meet their fate in a flat, dull, calculatedly unconvincing way.

I've mentioned before how I think it's a true pity that Wilder never ventured far outside of comedy...I am once again convinced that if he ever decided to play a villain in a thriller, he would have arguably won an award. He also could have been the greatest Doctor eeeever.

Supposedly, this was a naturalistic response...and it beats
looking at a blue screen.
7) Supposedly, Mel Stuart did not let any of the cast see the Chocolate Room until the scene was shot--and I absolutely love the apparently natural reaction the kids have when they stumble into the room. Given that this was all practical, you have to marvel at the handiwork of Art Director Harper Goff.

8) The weakest moment in this film is arguably the most pivotal--namely, the 'fizzy lifting liquid' scene. It simply lasts far too long for its purpose, and never moves beyond a certain emotional point.

9) I do like how the parents get equal time here. In the best cases--Roy Kinnear in particular as Mr. Salt--it draws up an even stronger case for them being part of the reason why their kids are so awful.

Peter Ostman may not have been a great actor--but he had lots
of great character actors surrounding him, like Aubrey Woods.
10) It's interesting seeing how much of the original script is 'quoted' by the Burton version--although in many cases, the Burton version seems to just want to drop certain references in to assure the audience that yes, theirs is a version of the same movie. I said, I like both equally...but the outstanding performance by Wilder, the clever little skits, and some cool art direction makes this the film I'd chose to show to a kid first. It's the more charming and naturalistic, and would prolly entertain them more.


  1. That scene in the boat freaked me the Hell out as a kid. And I mean that in the best way possible. Kind of like the scariness in a Dr Who episode.

    -Joel Mangrum

  2. I find it amazing not just how unsettling both Gene Wilder and this film can be, but how I (and I'm assuming lots of other children) never really picked up on that vibe until I revisited it as an adult. As you pointed out, Wilder's fake cries for help and calm manner barely hide the fact that he essentially set deliberate traps to punish bad children. As a kid, it seemed like it the mishaps were purely accidental, but I now see how calculated everything was.

    On a side note, I like to play the game "Is this movie taking place in America, England, or Germany?" while watching this film.

  3. I think the idea was that Charlie lived in a global 'everytown'--but I loved how the Germanness just Kept. Seeping. Through...