Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

The most recent version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” features Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. It’s just been released on video in the last month. If you’ve not seen this movie, it would be a good one for kids who don’t mind fantasy and who can tolerate weirdness. (I mention this since as a kid, I couldn’t handle either very well.)

One of the benefits of a newer version of the film is that there is an older version that can also be viewed for comparison! The 1970s version of the same story (which is a novel by Roald Dahl) is called “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and stars Gene Wilder.

If you read the book and watch both versions, you are now practicing a principle that I like to call “multiple exposures.” One of the best ways to increase your facility in the ability to analyze literature, art, music, even nature is to encounter the same story, song, style or setting in multiple interpretations.

How is Johnny Depp’s interpretation of Willy Wonka different than Gene Wilder’s? Which is truer to the book? What characteristics do they each choose to emphasize?

Now consider the actors who plays Charlie in each film. What choices do these actors make in how they portray Charlie that work? Which don’t work?

Which movie is more faithful to the original novel? Do you prefer one to the other? Why does either (both) of them alter the story for the sake of the movie? Does it work?

Notice the artistic conception of the factory and the costumes and Charlie’s home. What do the films have in common with each other and what is different? Do you like the Oompa Loompas better in one than the other?

Don’t turn this into a report. Simply converse using some of these questions as dialog openers. This is the kind of questioning that lays a foundation for skills like compare and contrast. It helps to be intentional about noticing the choices both writers and directors make in telling the same story. Over time, these skills translate into comparing and contrasting ideas, and making critical judgments in writing.

It’s always a good idea to read the novel on which a film is based too. And just so you know: I don’t think it matters one whit if you see the movie before reading the book or not. I never cared to read the LOTR series or any Jane Austen until I had seen them in film. My enjoyment of those books was not diminished at all.

Sometimes film catalyzes an interest in reading and sometimes reading catalyzes an interest in viewing. Both are good. 🙂

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