5 Reasons Why Burton’s Wonka Movie is Better than That Other One

I think the pleasant surprise of Frankenweenie sent me on a Tim Burton kick. I’ve been revisiting several of my old favorites from the director, but one of them left me rather surprised. I’d seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory back when it came out in 2005, and remembered preferring it to the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

I think I was in the minority, though, and I haven’t given the movie much thought in the past few years. I rewatched it last week not sure if it would hold up very well to my older self.

Based on the title, I’m sure you guessed that Burton’s take still reigns supreme for me. You’ve probably also inferred that I have five reasons why. So without further ado, we start with…

Christopher Lee

I’m sure that there are plenty of people out there who hate that they gave Willy Wonka an onscreen history. I can almost sympathize… Wonka’s a mysterious character, an elfin enigma who seems to enjoy his privacy more than most. Does he really need a backstory?

Well… maybe not. But I think that Lee’s thundering dentist dad is a bonus character Dahl could have gotten behind. The father-son scenes play like quintessential Dahl, particularly reminiscent of Mathilda to my eyes. The overbearing dentist who breeds a candy genius is right at home with the rest of the story’s turns. Furthermore, the movie’s plot depicts a mysterious genius granting exclusive knowledge to a few lucky kids… revealing Wonka’s backstory along the way seems like a logical extension of that idea.

Christopher Lee, too, is predictably brilliant. It’s hard to imagine another actor who could embody such a pivotal, bizarre character in so few minutes. The man has an incredible screen presence.

Freddie Highmore

While we’re on the subject of acting, the kid behind the face of Charlie Bucket was on a bit of a tear back in 2005. He’d just broken hearts in Finding Neverland, and was about to deliver a solid performance as a set of twins in the somewhat underrated Spiderwick Chronicles. His take on the kid in the title is arguably as good as anything else he’s done.

Let’s just look at one scene: the moment AFTER Charlie finds the Golden Ticket (spoilers?). In this version, Charlie’s first reaction is not to celebrate, but to sell the ticket so’s his family will go a little less hungry. That’s a very unique reaction for a kid in Charlie’s place, but Highmore so earnestly conveys this kid’s goodness, resolve, and compassion that the audience never questions it.

And this character-destroying scene has been taken back out of the story where it belongs.

And these aren’t the only advantages Highmore has, because there’s also…

Not One Bit of This Song Anywhere


THANK GOODNESS. In fairness, “Pure Imagination” is a fantastic song. In extra fairness, “Cheer Up Charlie” is whatever the opposite of that is.


The Whole Bucket Family

… is better in the new version. In just a few scenes, Burton and his cast paint a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of these down-on-their luck folks. The star of the show in this passage — other than Highmore — is Noah Taylor as Mr. Bucket. It’s easy to see where Charlie gets his good manners; Mr. Bucket is kind, thoughtful, and utterly believable as the head of a drowning family.

And then there’s Grandpa Joe. Jack Albertson certainly did his thing in the old version, but David Kelly managed to find an alternate slant on the character that resonated just as strongly. Not a superior performance, perhaps, but an equal one.

The Bucket family scenes are Burton at his most sympathetic… which makes the Burton-flavored hell that breaks loose in the factory all the more stranger.

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  1. Meh, I just can’t get behind the Burton version.

    Bearing in mind, I grew up watching the Wilder version over and over so there is a sentimental attachment and bias. The issues I have in particular with the Burton version are as follows:

    Overuse of CGI distracted from the fairly simple plot. It felt like a case of using crazy CGI effects just because they had the budget, but it contrasted too starkly against the practical effects and took me out of the movie. The over designed set pieces basically did the same thing.

    The only actor I enjoyed at all was Freddie Highmore, and thats because he wasn’t going out of his way to overact or play a cariacture of a human…he seems like a real little boy. Those that DID overact did it so woodenly, and it all just felt too disingenuous even within its own fantasy world.

    I also felt the background story for Willy Wonka felt tacked on, and really not genuine enough to evoke an emotional reaction from me. The melodrama used didn’t match the events taking place.

    The sum it all up, it just felt too awkward and in need of a lot of editing during every step of the creation.

  2. All those things may or may not be right. That is irrelevant. The main character of each movie, Willy Wonka, was completely different and Wilder was clearly superior. You focused on pieces that were not the main part of the film.



    I disagree, mainly for the same reason that Avi stated:

    Gene Wilder > Johnny Depp.

    I still enjoyed the newer movie, just not to the extent that I would consider it in the same league as the Wilder version. Also, those Oompa Loompa dance pieces in the newer version were god awful.

    I did like the Mike TV character in the new one a lot more, though. Just a rage gamer that reminds me of my nephew.

  4. I agree with Avi and Frothy Ham. In the Wilder version, Willy acted mean or bizarre but thats all it was an act. He setup the factory as a test to pass on. He wanted someone good hearted to take over . In Burton’s, I never had that feeling for Willy. Willy was more of a lost child. His backstory actually took away from the movie. It took the magic of Wonka away. Wilder’s still had the character as mysterious.

    I agree the CGI was way overused. I liked the old Ompaloopas. Them all looking the same was just a turn off.

    The mean difference between the two really is that the Burton one was more dark, and the original while having dark moments was more light.

    It’s good your a Burton fan but that’s coloring your view. Next your going to say that Marky Mark Planet of the Apes is better than the original.

  5. The new one was alright, it does have a place on my shelf. But any argument that the new film is better than the old one is instantly crushed by Gene Wilder.

    Incidently, while the articles are often interesting and well written, I always know its a David R editorial when it’s about movies and I disagree with everything in it.

  6. I too favored the Burton film, though it made me quite the persona non grata in many social circles.

    Throw in my love for the Speed Racer film and, well…

  7. I agree with the article. I’m not a huge fan of either film but in the end it comes down to a story (no, it doesn’t come down to Depp or Wilder), and the way that story is told in the old version feels dated. I watched the old version recently and it bored me. It may have been a superior film when it was realeased, but it hasn’t aged well, except for some parts of Wilder’s performance. However, as I said, the new version is no gem either.

  8. David, while I respect your reasoning and can see why you would make such claims, I’m with Justin when I say I’m afraid you’re just not the person I’m going to go to for movie references based on so many differences of opinion. Good article, though, so keep it up!

  9. Kudos on having the balls to commit this to the internet jungle, thus inviting the possibility of the great shitstorm of our time. Maybe I’m old school like that, but I very much prefer Wilder in the role, although I did enjoy Burton’s version and Depp’s predictably wacky performance.

  10. I’m not usually one to sit on the fence but due the sheer mediocrity of both versions of this movie I see them both as being pretty even with each other. Which raises the question. Why even bother with remaking an average piece of entertainment in the first place?

  11. Gene Wilder > Johnny Depp
    Iconic songs > Burton-tastic weirdness
    Oompa Loompas > Multiple CGI Deep Roys

    Those three points are more than enough to out the original way ahead of the new one.

  12. Yeah, you’re full of it. The Wonka backstory was unnecessary, a hamfisted attempt to explain why the dude’s so weird. As if we need to know that. A little unknown goes a long way to creating a mythic character.

    Wilder’s Wonka was far superior because you never knew which way he was going, zig or zag. He might hug you, he might shove you down a greasy dumpster chute. He was dark and mysterious, yet intriguing and fun. Depp played him like a closeted pedophile. No warmth, no fun, just oodles of (unwelcome) creepy.

    And the oompah-loompahs in Burton’s film sucked–way too much Deep Roy. And let’s not even get started on the kids. The first Veruca ruled. As did Mike TV.

    The original was dazzling and inviting. The Burton version is all cold, hard surface and uneven narrative–just like most of his films.

    But then, I don’t know why I’m wasting my breath: you clearly posted this to provoke. It’s the only explanation for why anyone would favor Burton’s piece of shit over an undisputed classic.

  13. Got to love that ego, where the only possible reason to disagree with YOU is for attention.

    Jerk yourself off somewhere else, Zilla. We aren’t too keen on watching your finisher.

  14. People get way too emotional about this. Burtons film is not a remake of the original. Its his version of a movie based on the book. The book called ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. NOT ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’.

  15. As a long time fan of Burton and Depp and will almost religiously watch everything they do, even I have to agree with most of the comments.

    The problem is that Burton did one thing right, he kept to the original book, more or less which many haven’t read while there will always be the Mel Stuart/Wilder version that people will refer to and which will always be the greater of the two for one simple fact. Mr. Wilder’s version of the character was greater than Johnny Depp’s. But also, again we have to consider the CGI aspect where with Burton who moved away from Practical effects more and more (thankfully, I think he is starting to return to at least) overused it greatly in the film.

    It’s just sad because it could have been a great movie based on the original book and I agree with one thing about this article above all else. The actor who played Charlie could not have been better in the Burton version. He was, to me at least, one of the only actors/characters in the movie that made the most sense.

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