Point/Counterpoint: Gene Wilder
It is true that Tim Burton is a disturbed man. His career depends on people saying, “Dear God, why?” Consequently, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) is generally accepted as the more traumatizing movie. However, its creepiness is so overt that it doesn’t get under the viewer’s skin and send those telltale shivers up our spines. Certainly not like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), which sneaks into viewers’ hearts and homes as an innocent children’s movie, then quietly does away with four children.
In the modern Charlie, all of the children leave the factory as freaks, but we actually see them leave. This is not the case in Willy Wonka. Augustus Gloop gets swept away to be boiled in a chocolate river— no one notices. Mike Teevee becomes miniature; no big thing (pun intended). Violet Beauregarde is sentenced to juicing and everyone calmly watches as she is rolled away. Veruca Salt falls into an incinerator. But don’t worry about her, focus on the dancing little men. You don’t want to miss their wonderfully haunting ditty about how the children deserved their fates.
Beneath the sweet candy shell, Gene Wilder’s Wonka is essentially Jigsaw in a top hat. His bipolar tendencies remain completely unexplained, unlike Depp’s Wonka, who has a heart-warming back-story, complete with a therapist and a neat resolution. Initially, we look at Depp and think, “What is that pasty freak doing wearing my mom’s haircut?” But as the movie progresses, he is humanized and made to look pitiful. Yet, Wilder gains the viewer’s trust by feeding untested candy to children. It is not until the clearly drug-induced mayhem on the boat that the mask slips and we shudder at the dangerous maniac beneath.
In short, it is Wilder’s insidious evil that terrifies, and the unexpected subtlety of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that creeps out the viewer. There is nothing subtle about Tim Burton; we expect to be disturbed by the aesthetic of his production, so we ignore the movie’s message and focus on our heart bpm’s, which is mild in comparison to Wilder’s televised child-napping spree.
Joyce is an Undeclared Freshman.