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Charlie and Mr. Willy Wonka

YHB doesn't see a lot of movies, or at least hasn't seen very many in the last few years. I did see the Tim Burton Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, though. I'm a big fan of Mr. Burton's flicks, and of Mr. Dahl's books, and it seemed to me that Mr. Burton was ideally suited to Charlie. Mr. Burton's particular strength, amazing strength, is in coming up with astonishing visuals and then bringing them to the screen so perfectly that they appear to have been printed directly out of his dreams. I'm thinking here of the enormous and ominous tree in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, of the Giant lifting the tilting house in Big Fish, of the dance with the Joker in the pale moonlight in Batman. The ability to first imagine Mr. Willy Wonka's factory, and then execute that vision seemed to me to be central to a movie version. In fact, although Mr. Burton does a magnificent job with the factory (and more particularly, with the Buckets' house), that doesn't carry the movie.

What Mr. Burton (and his screenwriter, and Johnny Depp) failed to do, sadly, was to strike the proper balance in the character of Mr. Willy Wonka himself. It's a tricky balance, as I've said before, in making Mr. Wonka (who is, in some sense, the villain in the piece) just the right combination of scary and silly. In the book, his eccentricity is charming, and although he is clearly not just indifferent to the fate of the naughty children but gleeful about their comeuppance, there is no question that he is, on the whole, kindly. The movie of my youth has Gene Wilder portray a forbidding but charming eccentric; the viewer wants to be on his side, even in the startling and marvelous scene in which he explodes with fury and throws Charlie out of the factory with nothing. This movie has a Willy Wonka who is dangerously psychotic, even when he is charming. He gives the impression that he might at any moment go for your neck. It's a riveting performance, magnificent in a lot of ways, but it ruins the movie.

Well, it doesn't ruin it. I enjoyed the movie. It was fun, and there were a lot of wonderful things (in particular, David Kelly totally nails Grandpa Joe, and is a wonder to watch throughout the first part of the movie, when he has something to do). On the whole, though, it wasn't a lovable movie, and without being a lovable movie, what was it?

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,

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