Hollywood Gothique
Film Reviews

A Tale of Two Wonkas

Salon.Com has posted an article by Steve Almond, in which he sings the praises of 1971’s WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and says he will not bother to see the new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY because it cannot possibly live up to the previous version.

Almond gilds the lily a bit, calling WILLY WONKA “one of the most important films in the history of cinema” — a claim it cannot possibly support, no matter how much he likes it.

He does a good job of assessing the film’s virtues, but he never makes a case for why those virtues are so sacrosanct that the new version cannot match them. The closest he comes is resorting to the all-too-familiar-sounding bitching that WILLY WONKA was “made long before the era of special effects replaced character development as the top priority in Hollywood.”

I hate to rain on Almond’s parade, but I hate “Golden Age” criticism that pretends there was a wonderful time of absolute perfection that just happens to correspond with the author’s childhood. In truth, WILLIE WONKA was born of an era of Hollywood excess, when studios churned out a series of big-budget, overproduced musical flops (stuff like DARLING LILY and the original version of DR. DOOLITTLE).

Not that these were bad films, but they were just as much a product of formula filmmaking as any special effects effort churned out today, and in fact, WILLY WONKA was not a success in its own era. It has developed a reputation over the years as its era has receded from memory and its colorful production values no longer seem trendy, giving the film a feel of stylized nostalgia.

Bottom line: It’s a good movie, but it’s not one of the untouchable classics. We’ll see if Tim Burton and Johnny Depp can do something interesting with the material.