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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