In 1972, Mel Stuart’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was nominated for an Oscar for having the Best Music, Scoring Adaptation, and Original Song Score. Again during that same year, the star of the film, Gene Wilder, was nominated for a Golden Globe as the Best Motion Picture Actor. These nominations are to be carefully examined and compared to the more recent Willy Wonka adaption; Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory of 2005. From 2005 to 2006, this film was nominated for thirty-three nominations, and won twelve awards, most of which related to the impeccable acting of Johnny Depp. Though kids and teens judged many of these award categories, The Phoenix Film Critics Society awarded Burton’s adaption with the Best Original Score. Whether or not one can judge the quality of both film productions based on awards alone, it is important to note that since the ‘70s, the film industry has created many more categories that one can be nominated for.
Mr. Mel Stuart
By the time that director Mel Stuart’s ten-year-old daughter had read Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator a multitude of times, she pleaded with her father to make a film. Prior to the creation of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in 1971, Producer David Wolper had been previously responsible for eighty-five television series, documentaries, and films, in which he received an immense amount of attention. After first being nominated for an Academy Award in 1959 for his documentary The Race for Space, Wolper managed to finally win the award in 1971 for conceiving and directing his documentary, The Hellstrom Chronicle. When Stuart asked Wolper to direct Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he was incredibly intrigued by the proposal. At the time, Wolper was in the process of making a deal with Quaker Oats Company to introduce a new candy bar from their Chicago-based Breaker Confections subsidiary, since renamed “The Willy Wonka Candy Company,” and sold to Nestle. With persuasion, Wolper managed to convince Quaker Oats to buy the rights to the book and finance the picture for the purpose of promoting a new Quaker Oats Wonka Bar.
The original intention was to honor Roald Dahl’s book by turning the film into a children’s musical, but Wolper preferred the film to be a straight dramatic piece. The plan was to have Dahl himself write the screenplay; however, there were more parties involved with heavy influence on direction. Due to the monetary involvement of the Quaker Oats Company, the film title was changed to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” which would promote their new candy bar. This title change took the focus off of Charlie Bucket as the star of the show, and now highlighted a more mysterious Mr. Willy Wonka. This quite upset Roald Dahl as he felt the children’s story was already changing without his full consent. Both Stuart and Wolper agreed that the film would not be a full-blown musical, though the lyrical content would help emphasize the story’s key moments and become identifiable all throughout the film.
Holding the rights to the Wonka film production, the auditioning process was quite agonizing for Mr. Dahl. His first choice to play Willy Wonka was Irish playwright and comedian, Spike Milligan, who quickly turned down the role. Dahl’s next choice was British actor Ron Moody, who also turned down the role for personal reasons. Next, Dahl thought that maybe English actor Jon Pertwee would shine in the role as Willy Wonka, but he was too busy with his involvement in Doctor Who at the time. When American Broadway star Joel Grey was turned down due to his small physical stature, the production team announced that they would be holding auditions in New York to find the perfect Willy Wonka to represent the writing of Roald Dahl. Once the production team saw the sheer talent of Gene Wilder, he was immediately awarded the role. He was the perfect embodiment of Willy Wonka, and the team realized that they had found who they were looking for all along. That is, with the exception of skeptical Dahl who still harped on Spike Milligan playing Wonka’s role. Unnerved about previous business deals, he felt control of the film’s direction slipping through his fingertips. Since then, the production team held further auditions that were held in New York, London, and Munich to fill the parts of the children and their parents.
Dahl’s use of poetry hinted to the use of music from the very beginning. As quoted from the book, “How can you whip cream without whips? Whipped cream isn’t whipped cream at all unless it’s been whipped with whips. Just as a poached egg isn’t a poached egg unless it’s been stolen from the woods in the dead of night!” (Dahl 94). This particular use of poetic and creative language stirs-up a multitude of images in the minds eye. Particularly dark, it seems only natural that Dahl envisioned his 1964 children’s book to be rich with music. On the outside we are showered with candy, but the ulterior motives are rather mysterious. One particularly popular song in the 1971 film titled “The Candy Man Can,” also had lyrics devoted to whipped cream. “Who can take tomorrow, and dip it in a dream, separate the sorrow, and collect up all the cream.
The candy man, oh the candy man can. The candy man can cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good.” The common message is that there is someone, (either Willy Wonka or the candy man) who is in charge of providing delicious candy to all the worthy children. However, we find that beneath the sweets the candy man is not giving candy to children out of the kindness of his own heart. His most important motivation is getting paid, while Willy Wonka searches for the perfect child to run his candy factory once he retires.
Wolper believed the actors could chant poems in the “manner of today’s rap, rather than perform them as songs. [He] was wary of adding musical numbers of any kind, thinking it would take away from the sense of reality [he] wanted to impart to the story” (Stuart 60). Regardless, the music written for the film by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newly has been entirely memorable almost forty-three years later. Wolper stated that his only reason for inserting a memorable sound-score had to do with money because “The Wizard of Oz made money [and] The Sound of Music was a blockbuster. Oliver was [also] a huge hit, [and] they all had songs in them” (Stuart 60). Though he fought the idea for quite a while, Mel Stuart finally gave in to having the film scored by English composer and lyricist, Leslie Bricusse. Partnering with songwriter Anthony Newley, the composers also worked with ten-time Oscar Nominee, Walter Scharf, who provided the musical direction. Though the soundtrack was first released by Paramount Records in 1971, in 1996, Hip-O Records (in conjunction with MCA Records) released the soundtrack on CD as a “25th Anniversary Edition.” The 1971 soundtrack is clearly a memorable one. It got me thinking…will there be a “25th Anniversary Edition” for the 2005 version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or is it virtually unmemorable due to the somewhat underwhelming songs?
There are many mixed opinions about the 2005 film, though it is true that Tim Burton stayed true to his personal style of rather dark and mysterious directing. According to a harsh criticism by Washington Post writer Ann Hornaday, “The cumulative effect isn’t pretty. Nor is it kooky, funny, eccentric or even mildly interesting. Indeed, throughout his fey, simpering performance, Depp seems to be straining so hard for weirdness that the entire enterprise begins to feel like those excruciating occasions when your parents tried to be hip. If you have to try that hard, you just aren’t. Similarly, Burton, whose keen imagination has come up with an eye-popping palette and occasionally brilliant production design, has labored so hard to make Wonka his own — giving him a tedious back story, replete with daddy issues — that he has lost all the subtle humor and understatement that made Roald Dahl’s original story, and Mel Stuart’s 1971 adaptation, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” so charming in the first place” (Hornaday 1). While there are a lot of negative statements about the new adaptation expressed by Ann Hornaday, Lou Lumenick, a writer from the New York Post boasts that “Like Roald Dahl’s book, Tim Burton’s splendidly imaginative and visually stunning – and often very dark and creepy – new version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is squarely aimed more at children than their parents (Lumenick 1). Though it was the intention of Dahl’s book to be for children, is this particular perspective something he would have appreciated? Dahl despised the 1971 film, but it is quite possible he would have agreed with the darker Tim Burton interpretation to reflect his writing. Jami Bernard of New York Daily News said that “The eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) can’t feel pleasure, even though he’s surrounded by it, so it’s weirdly appropriate that the movie isn’t “fun,” even if it’s amazing to look at (Bernard 1). Truth be told, the film is widely appreciated as being visually stimulating, though each scene relays a ton of graphic information, hence, making it harder to relate with. Burton’s use of color and computer graphics is completely relevant to movies produced in 2005. Regardless of movie critics and audience members having such bipolar opinions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it is necessary to mention the wonderful working marriage between the cast and production team.