There are several schools of thought on the art of the remake. First there is the “respect for the classic” school. Here the filmmaker wishes to show the die hard fans how much he loves the original and thus goes out of his way to create a faithful rendition. Perhaps the worst remake of all time in this respect was Gus Van Zant’s “Psycho”, a shot by shot duplication of Alfred Hitchcock’s landmark film. However watching the classic as performed by Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn is ultimately entirely useless.
Second is the need for originality. Remakes that have had the most success seem to do so by moving in the opposite direction from the original. Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven” and F. Gary Gray’s “Italian Job” both virtually ignore their predecessors. By this method, a film can at least succeed or fail based on its own merits, without constant comparison to the original. This approach renders the original and the remake irrelevant to each other.
Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” attempts to find some middle ground. Burton unsurprisingly revamps the visual look of the film, creating another oppressive and twisted yet beautiful looking world, while preserving the subversive feel of the original. However the original’s lollipop land look combined with its satirical content to create a deceptively dark tone. As with many of his films, Burton’s dark look belies a deceptively light and kid friendly tone.
The most obvious difference is that of the title. It is ironic that Tim Burton chose to re-invoke the original title of Roald Dahl’s novel, considering his new version focuses most on the character of Willy Wonka, while, Mel Stuart’s “Willy Wonka” focuses most on Charlie. You may recall the turning point in the original when Charlie returns Wonka’s everlasting gobstopper, proving himself pure of heart, and atoning for his earlier mistakes. You may miss this plotline from the new film. Instead, Burton focuses on the origins and familial troubles of Willy Wonka himself.
Another major departure is Mr. Wonka himself, the reclusive genius who runs Wonka Enterprises with an iron fist. Here Tim Burton and Johnny Depp made a conscious effort to be different. The beloved performance Gene Wilder delivered was dapper, smooth, and rather well adjusted for a recluse. Not surprisingly Johnny Depp delivers a gem of a performance to match, playing the character as rude and eccentric, meanwhile looking like a glammed-up Michael Jackson (the scary version).
The film really runs into a rocky area musically. The numbers by the Oompa Loompas, which are particularly forgettable, come across as tacked on. The original film had musical numbers through out, including the memorable “Candy Man”. In “Charlie” the interludes feel so extraneous that they take away from the forward motion of the film.
Overall Tim Burton delivers a serviceable but not great adaptation of a movie that did not need to be remade. The experience is enjoyable mostly due to Johnny Depp’s brilliance and partly for love of the classic.