Is it just me? … or is Charlie And The Chocolate Factory better than Willy Wonka?

One Total Film writer argues the case...

In our regular polarising-opinion series, Total Film contributor Paul Bradshaw asks, ‘Is it just me? … or is Charlie And The Chocolate Factory better than Willy Wonka?’

Roald Dahl hated Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, but for some reason everyone else loved it. A teatime favourite in living rooms countrywide, Mel Stuart’s 1971 fantasy is regarded as an untouchable classic.

So when Tim Burton announced that he was going to make Charlie And The Chocolate Factory in 2005, retaining the original title of Dahl’s book and attempting a more faithful adaptation, a generation rolled their eyes, turned their backs and sharpened their pencils.

It was the ’70s vs the ’00s. Wholesome nostalgia vs artificial colouring. Spangles and Black Jacks vs Haribo and Jelly Bellys. The Charlie defenders were too young and hopped-up on e-numbers to fight back, and the Wonka lovers quickly consigned Burton’s film to the same dustbin that held his “reimagining” of Planet Of The Apes. But that’s not fair. It’s not even right.

Try watching Charlie again through the eyes of a child and you might fall in love with the book again. Do the same with Willy and you won’t sleep for a week. Burton’s version might be brash, but Stuart’s is cheap, corny and downright frightening.

Let’s start with Wonka himself. Johnny Depp channelled Michael Jackson into a mix of camp and creepy for his take on Dahl’s eccentric chocolatier. His constant giggling might have grated, but his boyish bravado isn’t far from the Wonka in the book.

But if Depp unnerved, then Gene Wilder terrified as a Worzel Gummidge/Barbra Streisand hybrid. With the face of a sick baby and the eyes of a serial killer, Wilder doesn’t look like someone you’d leave alone with your kids.

Which brings us to Charlie. Little Peter Ostrum (an actor you can now find handing out ‘golden’ subway tickets in a Dunkin’ Donuts infomercial) brought Charlie to life in 1971 but the posh cherub didn’t look like he needed a trip to a chocolate factory. Fast-forward to 2005, and Freddie Highmore’s malnourished urchin really looked like he’d never had his pocket full of sweets.

But it’s when the famous doors swing open that the differences really count. Burton’s wonderland is endlessly imaginative, even on repeat viewings. Stuart’s washed-out factory floor is just a few fake rocks and a bit of astroturf – and his chocolate river looks like shit. Literally.

Burton’s tribe of Oompa-Loompas are just as Dahl described them; but Stuart gives us a nightmarish gang of green-haired, orange-faced clowns. Sure, the original had a few classic songs – but the Loompa’s are the only ones that should be singing them.

Charlie’s highlight is a pack of (real) trained squirrels who check for bad nuts – Willy’s most memorable scene is an acid soaked boat ride that floods the screen with Jodorowskian images of leering eyeballs, beheaded chickens and Wilder screaming like a banshee.

Whichever way you slice it, Stuart’s Willy Wonka just hasn’t aged well – but Burton’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is still as fresh, original and provocative as Dahl’s book. Or is it just me?

Do you agree with Paul's take on the Roald Dahl adaptations? Or do you prefer the earlier version over Burton's vision? Join the debate below!


    • barryc

      Aug 4th 2013, 11:10

      Oh just stop with these pathetic, attention seeking articles already, Yes, it is just YOU. For your next article why not ask, " Is it just me?, or is Batman and Robin better than The Dark Knight"??,, that should grab you plenty of controversial comments right there. Seriously, these features are an embarrassment for Total Film which used to be a well loved and respected Film Magazine/Website, unintelligent and pointless articles like this one are just contributing to it's downfall.

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    • H3isenberg

      Aug 4th 2013, 12:46

      Completely agree barryc. Useless article.

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    • garethcmurray

      Aug 4th 2013, 13:20

      Dreadful article. A regular column were pendantic nerds get to be.... err!... pedantic nerds. This has probably been the worst one since the idiot berating `2001 A Space Odyssey´.

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    • markwalsh

      Aug 4th 2013, 13:22

      And I agree with H3isenberg & barryc You're just drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

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    • markwalsh

      Aug 4th 2013, 13:51

      Unless perhaps, that is your point and much like Duchamp's Mona Lisa Mustache this is some Dadaist meta critical anti-critic statement? It is a valid critique because you are a critic and have signed your name to it, regardless of the effort or talent required to create it. Or is this a genuine expression of the current dominant culture's retrograde value system and, like most of those steeped in pure cultural garbage, you would much prefer to see Willy Wonka redone as a reality show with the characters from Jersey Shore starring Howard Stern as Wonka?

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    • cc1129

      Aug 4th 2013, 13:53

      I guess I'm the only one who agrees with the article. I still like the original, though.

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    • vinnym1980

      Aug 4th 2013, 13:53

      Both films are s**t!

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    • hawkass

      Aug 4th 2013, 13:53

      I don't think I'd willingly pop in the DVD of either these days. Say what you want about them, but the fact remains that both adaptations are really just operating at different levels of psychotic.

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    • benedictdoran

      Aug 4th 2013, 14:02

      I disagree with my fellow commentators (if that's how you'd describe us). I was discussing this the other day my friend and I were watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with his kids/ To our surprise the film was immersive and fun. On my first viewing I was with everyone else and saw it as a failure with the cringing MJ impression and the lack of memorable songs that carried caramelised nostalgia like Willy Wonka had done with me as a child, but watching Willy Wonka now, other than the songs, it just isn't as interesting. I would argue not to judge them as original and remake but rather let them stand alone as two original films then you can appreciate them both on they're own merits. Otherwise all you're doing is having a geek argument no different than 'who would win, Batman or Superman?'. the only difference being is that the former isn't being made into its own big budget film.

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    • tomjbeasley

      Aug 4th 2013, 14:36

      Calling the article stupid is ridiculous. It's simply an opinion different to yours. For the record, Willy Wonka 1971 is a far better movie than Tim Burton's Charlie, although the latter has its merits. It is noticeably more faithful to the book and even retains some of Dahl's Oompa Loompa songs. However, Burton's CGI-drowned world does not feel as magical as the original one and the sub-plot with Wonka's father is one of the most pointless bits of story padding I have ever seen. Many of the points you make in the article are valid, but the original film for me is a stone cold classic that Burton couldn't hope to beat. His is a failure, but an honourable one.

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    • valissa

      Aug 4th 2013, 14:50

      While I don't hate the original Wonka one, I do much prefer Tim Burton's take. I really only enjoy the original because of nostalgia... Tim Burton's I enjoy because it's actually a really good film.

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    • bleezy25

      Aug 4th 2013, 17:42

      This is a nicely written article, but if you haven't seen either film, it's a little misleading. First, no film should be judged based on its strict adherence to source material or the original authors' thoughts of the finalized films. Authors aren't filmmakers (most of the time). They aren't writing screenplays (most of the time). More importantly, Bradshaw doesn't acknowledge the subtlety present in the original film, a subtlety Burton threw away in favor of a cute backstory. Wilder is only creepy at first, and it's because we don't understand him. When his intentions are revealed at the end of the film, the creep factor goes away completely. Is is rich, eccentric, and overseeing the most important candy factory in history. There are real stakes in his choosing of a successor, and his initial cruelties reflect it. Burton didn't make a bad film, he just took risks that, in my opinion, didn't entirely pan out. He missed an opportunity to make his film a resonant update (less Michael Jackson, more Steve Jobs maybe?) by removing the mysteries that made the original film work so well. The squirrels and Umpa Lumpas worked very nicely though.

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    • Filmsrock

      Aug 4th 2013, 19:29

      Charlie is better than Willy. Especially after the "Willy Extra Nutty" in Epic Movie.

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    • Ichi1

      Aug 5th 2013, 14:10

      Stupid troll articles. Why would TotalFilm knowingly troll it's readers? I mean these articles make it clear that TotalFilm is trying to annoy us. I recently bought a subscription to TotalFilm on my iPad and I was so annoyed to see that these dumb troll articles are in the magazone too. And I wonder why I would give my hard earned money to a company that actively tries to annoy me. I am still in the trial phase and I have not been charged....maybe I will cancel and not give my money to them...yeah.....cause you have succeeded....I am annoyed.

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    • StevePotter

      Aug 5th 2013, 15:46

      Burton's film is only "more faithful" on a very superficial level. It's faithful to the letter, sure, but it fails completely to capture the spirit of the book. The book was a tad mean-spirited while still a bit wholesome, much like "Willy Wonka." I love Tim Burton, but he really f****d this film up, and Johnny Depp plays Wonka completely wrong. Willy Wonka was never crippled with self doubt or had daddy issues! It's besides the point. "Willy Wonka" is a better movie all around.

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    • Richie

      Aug 5th 2013, 16:33

      Tim Burton is my favourite Director ever... I think the man is a genius and I really do love CATCF... I like the way he stuck to the book more but still left some fo the classic scenes in. I am also glad there werre no fizzy lifting drinks. Johnny makes a decent Willy and I even think the rest of the cast was well chosen. Having said that... I grew up watching the original classic and think it is a great movie. Catchier songs and a lot of fun to watch. I even liked Gene Wilder as Willy... yes he was a bit creepy, but then Johnny is also creepy in CATCF. I think that makes it all the more entertaining. So... come with me, and you'll be, in a world of pure imagination. Take a look, and you'll see, into your imagination.

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    • Igrayne

      Aug 5th 2013, 21:28

      I cannot stand Tim Burton he is a complete one trick pony and more dedicated to destroying positive characters and stories than actually being faithful to the source material, I mean Depp should never have been chosen but Tim wants to drop one in him. It is not that faithful to the book in that Burton has twisted the very fibre and vision of the book, he has claimed it as his and not Dahl's, The Buckets in Burton's version are so bloody irritating I want to stab them with the back end of a hammer and as for that damned awful offensive and suggestive Michael Jackson impression. Sorry but Wilder was ten times more like what I imagined Willy Wonka as being and I agree with the earlier comments totally, stop trying to deliberatly annoy and create bitterness and resentment Total Film. Also I believe to call Burton the greatest director ever you need to have your head examined, tell you what I will take all of your happy memories and put them in drag then have Danny Elfman the overrated hack play the violin while Depp acts like a ten year old confused girl, sound interesting nerds?

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    • Hadouken76

      Aug 6th 2013, 8:51

      In Tim Burtons' version, Charlie was just a cipher in his own story. it was primarily about Willy Wonka. Plus, Depps' Wonka doesn't look like he could organise a p/zz up in a brewery let alone run and manage an entire factory, at least Wilder has an authoritarian streak, and was obviously in control.

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    • GarthMarenghi

      Aug 6th 2013, 20:54

      I agree wholeheartedly. I'm as tired of remakes and reboots as the next man, but it's unfair to lump Charlie in with Burton's rushed, studio-compromised Planet Of The Apes misadventure. As a Roald Dahl fan, the original film irritated the hell out of me as a child, whereas Burton's vision felt much closer to Dahl in both tone and execution. Depp takes it a little too far and should have been reined in, admittedly, but the world Burton creates is visual feast and a faithful interpretation of the much-missed author's fevered imagination.

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    • MichaelDelaney

      Aug 8th 2013, 21:39

      Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of those rare films that I enjoyed first time around but have grown to dislike with each subsequent viewing.

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    • wookie2601

      Aug 17th 2013, 19:41

      I recently had the pleasure of introducing my 6 year old to the world of Dahl and we read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and watched both films. As such I would have to agree with Paul that as an adaption Burton's film sticks much more closer to the book and so in that respect is a better film BUT I think Paul has missed the point, Willy Wonka is a film that I have watched every Christmas for as long as I can remember, this film is linked to my memories of a better time; of believing in Father Christmas and of the spirit of life that comes from being young. This film therefore may not be technically gifted as Burton's or even as accurate but its true gift comes from the way it has the ability to whisk me back to my childhood, and for that reason it will always be the better film.

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    • willderbyshire

      Aug 19th 2013, 23:52

      To me, Tim Burton's version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the definitive screen version of the book. I was never a big fan of the Gene Wilder version. The original story was supposed to be a morality tale and the moral was "only the good gets rewarded". The 1970s film version took away the whole point of the story by having Charlie stealing Fizzy Lifting Drinks. What was the film trying to say? "Stealing is good"? Also, the Buckets' home didn't give the feeling that the family were poverty-stricken compared to the home in Burton's version. I saw a clip of it not so long ago and heard Grandpa Joe crying out "Jumping grasshoppers, Charlie!" Jumping grasshoppers? Please. And each and every machine and contraption in the factory named "Wonka"-this and "Wonka-"that? Just lazy writing. Roald Dahl may have been credited in writing the screenplay BUT the director hired another writer to redo it. How CAN they do that? Sacrilege. The overall result felt more like Dr. Seuss than Dahl. Burton's film felt more Dahl-esque, particularly with Wonka's backstory with his dentist father. Freddie Highmore played the part of Charlie Bucket BEAUTIFULLY and the same goes for the late David Kelly as Grandpa Joe. When Charlie wins his Golden ticket in this version and he was running back to his house, I nearly burst into tears every time I see it. In fact, I was moved by how the scenes in the Bucket home were played out and the house just felt threadbare, just the way it should be. The rooms in the chocolate factory are just amazing, unlike the cheap and tacky ones earlier, the scene with the squirrels checking for bad nuts was just so well done and Danny Elfman did a marvellous job with the score and the Oompa-Loompa songs straight out of the book. Give me those any day of the week, I am not a fan of "Oompa-Loompa Doopity-Doo" either. Sure, Tim Burton's version has its flaws, a few weak lines here and there and Depp does go a little OTT and acts a bit too childishly but yes, he's more like the Wonka in the original novel than Wilder's was - he was just too nice. Wonka is supposed to be a creepy character in parts, not some kind, devoted uncle. But the pros do outweigh the cons. Call me weird if you like and say the fact that I didn't have a childhood, etc. I DID have a childhood and a great one at that but that doesn't mean I had to like Gene Wilder's version of Charlie. I read the book first (I'm a massive Dahl purist), I watched both versions and I prefer Burton's. Simple as. If you prefer the original, that's fine by me. But the 2005 retelling doesn't really deserve the backlash it's been getting since its release. Give it a chance and see for yourself. And read the book while you're at it. Give it a chance.

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    • mikeshea

      May 5th 2014, 8:43

      Are you for real with this article?? Johnny Depp may be a God of all actors... but Gene Wilder IS Will Wonka.. and nobody will EVER replace him. I think Burton's movie was c**p compared to the original. Watching the original is euphoric to me in some ways. I love the actors, I love the music, and I even love the orange and green clown-like Oompa Loompas. The creepiness of the tunnel ride is great too! Watching Tim Burton's version.. was my idea of what an acid trip would be like. I typically love Burton's movies.. but I think remaking this one was a huge mistake. Long live Gene Wilder!

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    • susanjones

      Jul 27th 2014, 14:03

      I totally agree with you! People who like the old version better than the new one have never read the book! I'm a child of the 70s and I LOVE "Charlie" much more than "Willy"! I'm watching it now, again!

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    • imaadshahrukh

      Oct 8th 2014, 21:58

      I agree with this article. I like "Charlie" better than "Willy Wonka" because it made Charlie Bucket the innocent cherub the book describes him as, rather than a brat like the other kids, which the previous film did. Plus, it gives the feeling of an actual movie, with all the great special effects. "Willy Wonka" is more like a videotaped Broadway musical with it being very easy to distinguish the chocolate room as props. Bonus, for shoddy special effects, for example, the flash of blue light, that made Violet blue, when blowing up can be easily spotted.

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