Back in 2005, Hollywood decided to make another adaptation of the beloved Roald Dahl book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Since Roald Dahl himself wasn’t the biggest fan of the Gene Wilder adaptation, the Dahl estate was given complete creative control of the next adaptation and the final say on the directors, actors, and writers involved. This led to the wild and ever-divisive Johnny Depp and Tim Burton collaboration that you can now stream on Netflix. If you missed this one back when it was released, or if you’re ready to give it another go, now is your chance.
The 1971 adaptation of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate holds a special place in a lot of hearts for Gene Wilder’s subtle and nuanced performance as Willy Wonka. But, since it didn’t hold a special place in the author’s heart, the estate had no problem eventually approving this second attempt. The film made some bold choices that certainly set it apart from the book and its movie predecessor. One of the biggest shifts was delving into the backstory of Willy Wonka. We got to see Wonka as a child and what made motivated him to become this candy recluse. Also, Johnny Depp’s portrayal was a stark departure from Wilder’s. Where Wilder went in a more whimsical direction, Depp’s Wonka was a bit more reclusive, creepy, and almost child-like. There’s something to be said for each portrayal, but viewers were certainly unsettled initially.
Despite the changes in the movie, it was actually fairly popular. It did very well at the box office, making $474 million worldwide. It made $56 million on opening weekend and was the number one film at the box offices for two weeks. As far as reception goes, reviews are very divided. Some people enjoyed John Depp’s portrayal while others were very put off by it. However, aspects like the production design, costume design, and the music by frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman received lots of praise. The rest of the cast performed amicably as well, with Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Christoper Lee, AnnaSophia Robb, Julia Winter, Philip Wiegratz, Jordan Fry, and more doing great work in their roles. Fittingly, the Rotten Tomatoes score is very mixed with an 83% critic score and a 51% audience score. Compare that to the original, which received near-unanimous praise with a 91% critic score and an 87% audience score.
Although Johnny Depp was always Tim Burton’s first choice for Wonka, there were a ton of huge stars up for the role. Interestingly, Burton had Dwayne Johnson as his second choice. Warner Bros. also discussed the role with a laundry list of A-listers including Bill Murray, Nicholas Cage, Christopher Walken, Jim Carrey, Robert de Niro, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Michael Keaton, Brad Pitt, and many more. Brad Pitt apparently liked the idea enough to stay on as producer with his company Plan B Entertainment. Apparently, Michael Jackson was extremely interested in the role and even recorded a soundtrack. Warner Bros didn’t want Jackson for the role but wanted to pay him for the soundtrack. Since Jackson was wanting the lead role, he ended up saying no. It certainly would have ended up being a different movie if any of these actors were chosen, and it would be interesting to see where they would have taken the role.
Gene Wilder, for his part, was not the biggest fan of the reboot. Of course, Burton’s harsh words about the original probably didn’t make him feel any goodwill toward it. Burton had called the original “sappy” while Johnny Depp had praised Wilder’s performance. Wilder’s response when asked about the film fit these statements, as he stated at a book event that the remake was an insult and saying he doesn’t care for the director. He did also mention that he thought Burton was talented and that Depp is a good actor, whom he liked.
In any case, you can decide for yourself if Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s version is right for you by checking it out on Netflix. If you hate both adaptations or if you can’t get enough of the Charlie and Chocolate Factory universe, you’re in luck. Hollywood is giving the character of Willy Wonka another shot with an upcoming film that stars Timothee Chalamet as the chocolate recluse, so you at least have that to look forward to.