Tim Burton’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ Was Good, Okay?

The notion that a reboot or a remake should always be compared to its predecessor is inherently flawed because in that case, Tim Burton‘s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would de facto be a terrible film. But it simply isn’t. If given the opportunity to be judged on its own merit, it turns out to be a picture that carries its own weight, reveling in its outlandishness with a dash of emotional comfort. It is a cinematic fusion of childlike innocence and imagination driven by a colorful cast of characters with their own eccentricities. While it is certainly not as surreal as Mel Stuart‘s original adaptation, it is undoubtedly enjoyable.


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What Is ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ About?

Grandpa Joe in
Image via Warner Bros. 

Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) is an impoverished boy who admires Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) and his strangely alluring chocolate factory. Grandpa Joe (David Kelly), vividly recalls his years working for Mr. Wonka, up until the moment he closed his factory to the public due to his frustrations over spies leaking his chocolate recipes. Grandpa Joe, along with every single worker, lost their jobs. Unbeknownst to Charlie, his father has also been laid off, being replaced by a more efficient machine. The following day, the world is shaken by an announcement: five golden tickets are hidden in Wonka bars all around the world, and those who have it will be granted a full tour of the chocolate factory. Charlie, along with four other children, are lucky enough to find one in their purchased bars. While initially wanting to sell the ticket for profit, so his family could get by, he is convinced by Grandpa Joe to go on the tour.

Upon entering the chocolate factory, greeted by Mr. Wonka himself, Charlie is surprised at the behavior of the other kids. Due to their misbehavior, all of them fall victim to the dangers of the various candies and their machines, until only Charlie and Grandpa Joe are left. Wonka reveals that he wants to find an heir, and offers Charlie to live with him, as long as he leaves his family behind. Charlie refuses this and chooses to go back to his simple life, while Wonka is haunted by his past, leading to declining profits. Seeking Charlie’s advice, Wonka decides to reconnect with his estranged father, Wilbur (Christopher Lee). When Wonka learns of the importance of family, he takes the entire Bucket family to live with him in his factory.

Why Did ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ Get Mixed Reviews?

Willy Wonka, the winners, and their guardians stand in a room filled with candy
Image via Warner Bros. 

First receiving mixed reviews, the remake has started to become a favorite for repeat viewings and is deserving of a re-evaluation of its cinematic value. Gene Wilder was not particularly fond of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and its reception was divisive. While imperfect in its own right, there are no catastrophic flaws in Burton’s cartoonish presentation. As a matter of fact, it even adds to its charm. There is a sense of pure optimism that shines from its colorful visuals, and that’s exactly the point. This movie is about searching for goodness inside everyone, even within the most peculiar of beings.

This manifests in the chocolate factory itself. It gives off an aura of danger, but it hides it so well in its visually striking facade. The place isn’t trippy, nor is it confusing, but it simply piques the curiosity of both the characters and the audience because of how enticing it is. No wonder Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz) was seduced by the sugary aura of the chocolate waterfall. It was just so damn beautiful!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory‘s stock is also raised by its endearing set of characters. Johnny Depp wasn’t particularly praised by critics for his performance as Willy Wonka, but it’s arguable that this conclusion was due to a comparison between him and Wilder’s portrayal. Again, that’s not supposed to be the case. If we were to take Depp’s Wonka and evaluate it based on its own merit, he passes with flying colors. The first time viewers get to see him in action, they are dumbfounded. Here is the almighty Willy Wonka, and he turns out to be a weird guy that has issues with his childhood. He commands absolutely no respect from the children, except for Charlie, and he vindictively lets them meet their own candy-laced doom.

The oompa loompas (Deep Roy) are weirdly charismatic, appearing out of nowhere to gloat about the faults of the misbehaving children. Charlie Bucket is your quintessential good boy who loves his family more than anything else in the world, a stark contrast to the brats he comes to the factory with. The Bucket family lives a modest and simple life, and the joy they find is in each other. This adherence to family values is where the film hammers its entire point.

‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ Offers Important Lessons

Veruca Salt with her parents in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Image via Warner Bros.

This isn’t just the nostalgia talking, but the strength of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is in its imparting of valuable lessons. It is a children’s movie after all, and it carries on philosophies about life in boatloads. When Wonka realizes that Charlie is the only one left out of the group, he offers him his whole factory and gloats his success without help from any of his family. Charlie refuses out of love for the Bucket clan, and Wonka is left stunned. How can a boy who is offered something he always dreamed about refuse his offer? He then spirals into a breakdown, while Charlie’s life gets better by the day. Of course, it is obvious that the film is preaching the idea that family is the most important thing in the world. Everybody gets it, but the most essential thing it tries to tell is to partner that lesson with the thought that “this too shall pass”. At one point in our lives, we will face seemingly insurmountable odds, but they will lead to brighter days. As long as you have your family, as Mrs. Bucket succinctly put it, our luck will change.

Wonka finally reuniting with his father Wilbur is just the cherry on top of the Wonka chocolate sundae. He forgives his father for his cruelty, and he begins to realize the lessons he got from a young impoverished boy. Art imitates life, as apparently, it is a lesson that hits too close to home for Tim Burton himself. Having a troubled childhood, and a rocky relationship with his parents, Tim Burton moved out of his home when he was a teenager to pursue his dreams. Perhaps it is a regret he holds himself, and he vicariously wants to correct it through the film. while simultaneously calling for children to do what he could not.

Despite its flaws, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a triumph both personally, and artistically. It is a deeply personal effort that tugs at the heartstrings of viewers with a sky-high rewatch value. There is a Willy Wonka in all of us, but the imperative thing to do is to embody Charlie Bucket and begin to appreciate what our life has, rather than see what it does not. We might not have a factory, but we do have our loved ones, and that’s sweeter than any kind of chocolate Wonka has to offer.

The Big Picture

  • Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a film that stands on its own, carrying its own weight with its outlandishness and emotional comfort. Despite not being as surreal as the original adaptation, it is enjoyable.
  • The film’s charm lies in its cartoonish presentation and visually striking facade of the chocolate factory, which hides an aura of danger. Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Willy Wonka, although criticized against Gene Wilder’s portrayal, is strong when evaluated on its own merit.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory imparts valuable lessons about the importance of family and the idea that difficult times will pass. It is a personal and artistic triumph with high rewatch value that encourages viewers to appreciate what they have.

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