Tim Burton’s version of Raold Dahl’s famous story was certainly worth the wait. I saw the Gene Wilder version for the first time on video in the early 1980’s, and it impressed me as just being a kids story. Burton goes further and delves into Dahl’s dark chocolate tale of a lonely man’s inner child struggling with unresolved issues.
Willie Wonka (Johnny Depp), the son of a dentist who has no parenting instincts except that his son have perfect teeth, runs a successful world-famous chocolate factory. We discover that Willie and his father never got along. We never see his mother.
Willie hires local people to work for him but when he finds out that someone is selling the secret recipes for his chocolate confections, he fires all the workers and hires a small-sized inhabitant, Oompa Loompa (Deep Roy) of a distant land to run the factory for him. The good thing is, there are endless Oompa Loompas around to do everything, including song and dance routines – and they all look the same.
Willie decides to have a contest. The five children who find the chocolate wrapped in gold get to come and tour the factory and one will win a really big prize.
Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore of Finding Neverland) lives in a crooked little house with his parents and both sets of grandparents in the same town as the chocolate factory. The family is very poor. In fact, Grandpa Joe (David Kelly of Waking Ned Devine) used to work at the factory til he was fired with everyone else. Charlie is one of the five children who get a golden bar of chocolate and Grandpa Joe accompanies him on the apointed day.
You probably already know the story. The other four children and their parent or guardian all have childhood flaws and they make choices that have embarrassing consequences, e.g. Violet turns blue. Like the Super Nanny show that is more about training the parents to be parents than teaching kids, this film shows that the apples (kids) don’t fall far from the tree (parents). The parent or guardian end up in trouble just like their spoiled or selfish kids.
Meanwhile, Willie is on his own journey and Charlie helps him reconcile with his father. Charlie wins the really big prize and refuses it, much to Willie’s astonishment. In the end, Charlie teaches Willie about the value of family over all the chocolate – and power – you could ever want.
The film is funny, insightful, and creative. To me, all Dahl’s stories are dark, as are most traditional fairy tales. They are also full of fantasy and moral lessons. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory may seem to be for kids, but I think it really is more for adults. Dahl has no problem telling parents, via stories that seem aimed at kids, that it’s up to them to teach their children to be kind - and not forget how hard and frightening it is to be a child in a grown-ups' world.