Hi all, and welcome to Debatables, a new semi-regular column where minor literary questions are argued with perhaps a bit too much passion.
My cohost and regular debate opponent is the wonderful Cricket Muse. A librarian at heart, Cricket teaches literature as a day job to reluctant teens. Publishing credits include Highlights (with an upcoming story about Mark Twain), a couple of stories in Boyd’s Mills Press anthologies, and an essay in Chicken Soup for the Multitasking Mother’s Soul, along with Boys’ Life, and The English Journal. Currently, she continues to polish her life’s work, Udder Nonsense, a fact-filled and fun book about cows.
If you don’t follow Cricket’s blog already, you really should. Because she’s awesome.
Here are the Debatables ground rules:
Each Debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a previously agreed-upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than 150 words).
Today’s Topic: Who was the better Willy Wonka, Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp?
I will be on Team Depp
and Cricket will argue on behalf of Wilder.
Yes, yes, I know. Gene Wilder’s interpretation of Willy Wonka is iconic. In fact, he singlehandedly props up 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a film that frequently sags under the weight of too many songs and too many dreadful child actors. (Seriously, why must they yell every single line?)
So Wilder is wonderful. He’s charming and gregarious.
But “charming” and “gregarious” are not traits one usually finds in a monomaniacal recluse—and that, in a squirrel-removed nutshell, is the problem with his performance. A person like Wonka who is obsessed with only one thing to the point where he hides himself away for 15 years to work on that one thing, is a person who will lose his ability to interact normally with other people.
Depp’s interpretation understands this; he is the grown up version of that weird kid we all knew in high school who pursues obsessive hobbies in order to avoid the stress of forming interpersonal relationships.
The Wonka factory doubles as his personal oasis. When others invade his turf, he is unable to conceal his awkwardness: He flinches when he’s touched. His attempts at humor are cringeworthy. And he becomes defensive when any of his ideas are challenged. To this last point, when Mike Teavee—an obnoxious yet sometimes quite effective audience surrogate—asks a pointed question, Depp becomes so flustered he can only respond with a playground retort.
Depp’s Wonka is far more emotionally genuine than Wilder’s. We can see in Depp’s performance that Wonka would do most anything to avoid this Golden Ticket ordeal; to his mind, however, it is the only way to ensure that his beloved factory will live on after he dies. So Wonka does what’s necessary, uncomfortably flinching every step of the way.
Gene Wilder understood Willy Wonka. He understood the character so much that he stipulated he would only take the part if he could make his entrance with a limp and then fall with a somersault. You remember that opening, right? Genius. The reason for the pratfall entry? Simple. So from then on no one would know if Wonka could be trusted—is he telling the truth or is he lying? This is a man who trusted too much and it nearly ruined him. His former employees stole from him and in his defense he learns to be wary. Wilder got it.
With his startling blue eyes, cherub face, and frowzy hair, Wilder’s Wonka looks huggable, yet there is also a hint of being unbalanced, as in the trippy tunnel boat ride. Wilder played Wonka with an edgy subtlety. As for Depp? He went for weird.
His meet and greet scene involves flaming, melting puppets and he can’t be bothered with his guests. Depp’s Wonka plays a sociopath role due to daddy issues. There is an entire side trip about Wonka’s dysfunctional childhood. Since when did wearing braces create an obvious need for hug therapy?
As Wonka, Wilder delivers a noteworthy performance of a man who you want to like, yet aren’t quite sure about. Even when the children receive their just desserts, he projects how everything will turn out for the best. Depp? It’s as if he delights in the children’s demise.
Wilder’s Wonka is a bit grumpy, even prickly, but in the end he makes dreams come true. As for Depp? He ends up the movie getting a dental check up, and eating dinner, and he’s still weird.
Weird is not Wonka—Depp didn’t get it. Wilder is wonky, as Willy should be.
But did Wilder “get it” really? Roald Dahl hated Wilder’s portrayal. Dahl wasn’t alive to see Depp’s version, but his daughter was quoted that her father would’ve loved it.
Wilder’s Wonka is the sociopath here. That psychedelic boat ride’s sole purpose was to create nightmare fuel. Depp’s, on the other hand, was a childlike thrill ride.
Depp’s opening scene with the melting puppets isn’t as iconic as Wilder’s, but is true to his character’s pitiable social awkwardness. Yes, Depp’s Wonka doesn’t know how to make a dazzling entrance. But how would he? He’s been hiding in that factory for years!
And I think the domineering father subplot both explains Wonka’s behavior and gives him a satisfying character arc. It shows Wonka for who he is, a damaged soul—one who, with Charlie’s help, learns how to become a part of a family.
Never mind Dahl and his daughter. Few authors are happy with the film adaptation of their book. It’s the audience that matters, and generally people still praise Wilder’s Wonka. Why? Wilder had some strange moments, but there is a sense of celebration with Wilder’s Wonka.
Depp? He provides only a pasted smile, which matches his overall plasticity. Overall, Depp’s Wonka has no heart, no warmth, there is no sense of caring for Charlie.
With Wilder, we zoom off together with Charlie in the glass elevator to adventures. With Depp we watch him tell Grandma she smells like old people, and then we zoom out to a wide shot of them still living in their decrepit hovel. That’s an ending? Why would Charlie want to spend the rest of his life with a guy who insults his family? And where is the chocolate mansion? Still wild about Wilder.
And that, my friends, is the debate! Who do you agree with? What details did we fail to discuss?
Don’t be shy! Leave a comment! Let’s keep this discussion going!
117 Replies to “Debatables: The More Wonderful Wonka”
You both make valid points (Cricket more so than Mike of course) but the answer is single-handedly Gene Wilder. And the reason is actually something neither of you fully address, which is just how despicable Wonka is. Let’s face it: he deliberately creates machines and rooms designed to entrap the “bad” children. He says he hates gum, but then has a machine that makes it? And what about the Oompa-Loompas: how is it that they have perfectly crafted and executed songs unless they knew they would be needed *before* the children even entered foot in the factory? (And staying with those adorable little workers for a moment: let’s not forget that they don’t get paid, wear little clothing, and sing all the time because they are so happy working on that plantation…wait! I mean factory.)
Finally, if Wonka were in fact sincere in his claim at the end of the book that he set up this contest to find a successor, someone who is as adventurous and curious and innovative as he is, do you really think the answer would be Charlie? No! It would be Mike Teevee, the kid it takes him not one but two chapters to dispense with. And that tension with Mike and the whole eerie not to be trusted vibe is something Wilder consistently provides that Depp rarely does. Depp is a weirdo; Wilder is dangerous, just like Wonka himself.
Ah, Corey! I was hoping you’d chime in on this.
Wilder’s Wonka is indeed far more dangerous than Depp’s—and he does take evident glee in doing away with the children. But why is he so dang cruel in the first place? “I think I’ll open up my factory after all these years so I can torture children!” Why, Wilder, why?
And a Wonka like Wilder’s probably wouldn’t choose Charlie to run his company (or do the Golden Ticket thing at all, actually). He’s too clever to make a decision like this.
And, as you pointed out, there are far better candidates in the Golden Ticket group: Teeevee is smart and savvy. The Salt family has the proper business connections to expand Wonka’s Chocolate’s empire. Violet could create an enviable Wonka gum division. And Augustus, dumb as he is, at least has a true passion for Wonka’s chocolate, which is not nothing.
Charlie is just a nice agreeable kid. Not exactly CEO material.
Depp’s choice of Charlie makes sense, however. Depp’s Wonka operates with childlike, twisted logic. He’s is (literally) in his own little world. Only Depp’s Wonka would truly think, “Hey! I’ll choose my successor with a Golden Ticket! What could go wrong?” Also Depp’s weird chocolate magnate, a guy who is so very uncomfortable in his own skin, would seek out an heir that he is kinda sorta comfortable around. Someone like Charlie.
Okay you’ve forced me to reply as there is a salient component missing in your defense: Charlie’s family. I would suggest that Depp’s Wonka only seeks Charlie because of his family unit and not because of Charlie himself. There are all of these added Burton flashbacks to Wonka’s own childhood that do not appear in the book, so there is a real sense that Depp’s Wonka wants to adopt a nice family, and Charlie’s is the only one that fits the bill. The original book and Wilder movie deliberately make the adults unreliable and problematic, suggesting that if they weren’t making the child rearing choices they do, all of these children would be much better off. I think with respect to the terrible parents in the lives of all of these children –and yes I include Charlie’s! His father’s whole career is screwing on toothpaste caps! You’ve got a wife, four grandparents, and a boy to feed–get a better job, man!– the Depp movie depicts that aspect of their meddling ways more forcefully. But Wonka has never said he was looking for a family, and Depp’s Wonka seems driven only by that very notion.
Finally, I want to address your erroneous suggestion that Wilder plays the same character in each movie. (Depp does duh so no need to weigh in on that Captain Obvious observation.) Yes there is certainly some strands of similarity between Wonka and some of his earlier depictions (Young Frankenstein and The Producers spring to mind), but then Wilder changes and matures: his Letter Man on Electric Company is wholly different from the other characters populating his oeuvre.
Oh, Corey. You haven’t thought this one through. I’m having a hard time finding anything accurate here.
Depp’s Wonka doesn’t want to adopt a family. He chooses Charlie with the intent of taking him away from his family. Because of his own experience with his dentist dad, Wonka sees families as a burden. His opinion changes only after Charlie helps Wonka to see the error of his ways.
I would argue that the poor parenting is definitely evident in Burton’s remake. The only “good” parent is Mr. Bucket. And don’t diss Mr. Bucket! He’s a nice guy without much education, who, like many folks, was squeezed out by automation. And, ahem, why isn’t Mrs. Bucket working? And why wasn’t grandpa-oh-look-I-can-really-walk earning a little extra scratch as a WalMart greeter? C’mon now, let’s be fair.
You didn’t answer my earlier question, BTW. Why would Wilder’s Wonka choose Charlie? I think the reason Depp’s Wonka chose Charlie is self-evident. But why would a Wonka with Wlider’s savvy personality go for a kid like Charlie? What’s his motivation?
Thanks, Corey! Wilder knows Wonka is a complicated man, and has Wilky reveal his wilder side (couldn’t resist) at different moments. For instance–that boat ride is sixties flashback stuff. I’m definitely not going on a cruise with the Wonka man, and I do love a tasty 70% dark chocolate bar.
So sorry Mike! To quote another villain, but one far less despicable than Wonka, “you got me monologing!”
Here is the answer you seek: Wonka’s motivation for choosing a kid like Charlie is plain and simple, control. Wonka does not really want to give up his factory. He wants to perpetuate the appearance of generosity which is why he creates the contest in the first place. Just as he wants to perpetuate the false notion that he is kind and caring towards children. He is not. Nothing demonstrates that more than how upset he is with Augustus Gloop touching his chocolate. In that instance, Wonka’s sole focus is to preserve his chocolate and, to a lesser extent, remove Mrs. Gloop from the room since she keeps nattering on about the welfare of her child. He also wants people to think that he takes care of the Oompa-Loompas, but he doesn’t. They are his work force and also lab rats. On several occasions throughout the book and Wilder movie it is explicitly mentioned that he tries out new recipes on the Oompa-Loompas, who no doubt are subjected to these experiments against their will but must succumb since they have all been carted out of Loompaland in crates many years ago. (If that doesn’t sound like the transatlantic slave trade I don’t know what does.)
So when you, dear friend, offer up the fact that Charlie teaches Depp something at the end of the movie and they are in fact depicted as collaborating, the entire essence of Wonka has been lost. He is not a collaborator, he is a control freak who cares more about what he can produce in his lab than the beings that consume his concoctions. And none of that is anywhere in Depp’s iteration and is correctly everywhere in Wilder’s.
Well, we certainly see eye to eye that Syndrome isn’t as bad a villain as Wilder’s Wonka.
And we see eye to eye with your argument, too.
Wonka concocts the Golden Ticket plan as a cynical PR/phony baloney goodwill effort to sell more chocolate. He picks Charlie to maintain control of the company he loves. It makes perfect sense.
I still enjoy the Depp interpretation (and the Depp move as a whole) far more than the 1971 one, but Wilder’s motives are now clear (and very much in character).
Dang, Corey, you’re a pretty good teacher!
I thought both actors were great. (Can you tell I’m a conflict avoider?)
Fun post to read! And now I want to watch both versions again.
*sigh* Carrie, Carrie, Carrie… We’re all writers here. We have thick skins! Decide!
Okay, okay…Gene Wilder it is!
*Quickly runs out of the room and hides.*
Hey! HEY!! Get back here!
Way to go, Carrie! No shame at making the best decision.
You both make very valid, hilarious points.
I believe both actors missed the mark if one is going off the “what Roald Dahl wanted” approach. Willy Wonka in the book is an eccentric, hypomanic, flippant magician. He’s very disconnected, perhaps like the person Depp attempts to portray, but lacks much of any behaviors to make the reader connect with him as a human.
To me, Wilder’s Wonka portrays too much of Wilder himself and Depp’s (and the movie) a tad too much Tim Burton -not a lot, mind you, or it’d be a very twisted tale.
I give the win to Cricket because I believe she’s correct in that Wilder created a Wonka people nostalgically relate to. Personally, however, I prefer Depp and the modern film but acknowledge that not everyone likes the slightly-twisted humor (that, though Dahl was clearly a bit so, is a different twist than Burton’s).
You make a great point about how the character is portrayed. Wilder was pretty much Wilder in every film he was in. Wilder had a fantastic screen persona, but he did lack range. And, well, a Burton film is always very much a Burton film.
I’m glad you agree!
It IS a rather toned-down Burton. If Dahl were more dark, I think he and Burton would very nearly be on the same wavelength.
Oh, Dahl could get reeeeally dark. Have you ever read his short stories for adults? “Lamb to the Slaughter” is one of the best crime stories I have ever read!
I have not. I have read many of his children’s books, and felt he went a bit dark, but not the way that Burton goes with HIS children’t stories.
Nostalgia doesn’t mean “better,” my dear Cricket. I was once nostalgic for a cartoon I grew up with called Hong Kong Phooey. Then I saw the cartoon as an adult and thought. “Wow. Whatta bunch of crap.”
I LOVED Wilder as Wonka. And I LOVE Johnny Depp. But I think Depp needs to stay with the drunken Cap’n Jack character. “Cringe worthy” comes to mind with his portrayal of Wonka. (But I liked the kids better in Depp’s film)
I agree about the kids. Much better actors than in the 1971 film. Veruca Salt is especially good. Her line reading for “I want a squirrel,” is wonderful.
But, well… I think Depp needs to, at long last, put Captain Jack in Davy Jones’s locker. How many freaking pirate films are there now? 200?
I think 5 but he’s better at that then Wonka. I LOVE Depp because he becomes the character. Whereas say, Tom Cruise, makes the character into Tom Cruise. He plays the SAME person in every film he does.
Doesn’t Gene Wilder play the same person in all of his films? I’m not saying the person he plays is unappealing–Wilder is a *very* appealing personality–but are his characters different, really?
Nope. LOVED the jailbird in Blazing Saddles. And Dr. Frankenschtein…((laughs maniacally…))
As do I! In fact, I often say that Young Frankenstein is the best version of Frankenstein, because Wilder’s version of the character acts like a dad.
But Wilder always does Wilder, if you know what I mean. The guy never loses himself in a role the way Depp does.
OK, I gotta give you that. Depp does become the character. Where Wilder always kept a bit of himself visible.
Another commenter mentioned that Wilder was more of an “entertainer than an actor” which I think is accurate. I think that’s why he worked so well with Mel Brooks, another true entertainer.
Mel Brooks was ‘da bomb’!!!
Yes. Up to and including Spaceballs. Afterwards…weeeeeell…his career gets a little uneven.
Robin Hood – Men in Tights
History of the World Part 1
I have not seen SpaceBalls.
Men in Tights is the only post-Spaceballs movie on your list.
And, yeah, Spaceballs is hilarious. Rick Moranis should’ve been the villain in everything.
I would also recommend Brooks’s Hitchcock spoof, High Anxiety. It is simply brilliant.
I will request them from the Library asap. Thank you!!
OK , both movies requested from my local library. Why pay to rent when your library may have them for FREE??
You won’t regret it!
If I do? you’ll be the FIRST to know!!
Ahhh, but he’s so good looking! You can never have too many pirate movies with Johnny Depp. 😉
I liked him in the movie where he is a writer, though I can’t think of the name right now.
You’re thinking of Secret Window—and I agree! That was a fun movie!
So, Boo, I’m sensing a vote for Wilder. 👍
Gene Wilder all the way!
The nostalgia value of Wilder’s Wonka goes a long way, that’s for sure, but is there something you like about Wilder that makes him more Wonkish?
There is no nostalgia mentioned here in these decisive, intelligent responses–just straight up recognition of the best actor for the role. Sounds like a reach, Mike. Nostalgia…
Far from a reach, Cricket! You and I and most of this blog’s followers grew up with Wilder’s Wonka. His portrayal — good or bad — defines how the character is conceived. Not necessarily because Wilder’s idea of Wonka is best but because it’s first.
Depp’s weirder (and, I think, more convincing) portrayal of Wonka flies in the face of Wilder’s well-established interpretation. And it understandably sets a lot of people’s teeth on edge.
Nostalgia can make a big difference in the way a person likes (or dislikes) a later work. That’s why everyone freaked out about Atticus Finch when “Go Set a Watchman” hit bookstore shelves. “Why, Atticus would never go to a Klan meeting!” the outraged readers cried. What I think those people meant was “Gregory Peck’s Atticus wouldn’t go to a Klan meeting.” (and I agree!) But the actual Atticus sure as heck would’ve!
Wait a minute, Mike. You are stirring the Wonka waters with the Atticus debate. Yellow card!
Just drawing a parallel…
You weren’t provoking me? You know how my feelings on Atticus.
I would never do that! I know how much you like that racist. 😉
Looks like the scoreboard is reading Cricket 5 Mike *kaff kaff* 0 at this point.
Now, now. It’s a discussion! We’re not keeping score… unless Team Depp gets its second wind, of course.
Just being observant. And I know you are competitive. And no bribing the responders. Not even with chocolate.
What do you take me for? A *real* bribe would be an Everlasting Gobstopper.
You just blew your elevator ride, Mike.
A lot of good comments here! But so far I’ve read only two very compelling — yet contrasting — pro-Wilder theories in that have disrupted my faith in my Deppish stance. Corey (the first comment) a teacher and friend of mine who has designed coursework in children’s lit, and Stephen J. Federbusch (below) a fine fellow I went to high school with.
Which one do you think makes the better case, Cricket?
I always thought Gene Wilder wasn’t more an entertainer than an actor. That being said, he always brought a relatable charm to his roles that made the audience like him. I like him. I also like Johnny Depp because he always brings something unexpected to his roles. What is unique about this question, though, is whether the actors did justice to the role – yet they can’t be separated from their respective film versions. I can’t see Wilder in Tim Burton’s movie, nor Depp in the musical. My preference is for the Wilder interpretation. He draws you in, makes you wonder, makes you want to follow him through the film. Depp doesn’t have that here – as he does successfully in many other roles. I vote for the Waco Kid. 😉
Fair enough. When I was arguing for Depp as the better Wonka, I was judging his performance based on whether his personality properly synced up with his actions. I thought “What kind of guy would isolate himself from the world and create a personal Never Never Land? What kind of guy would think a Golden Ticket plan of succession is a good idea? What kind of guy would look for the most absurd and impractical ways to make candy?” And well, a weird, child-like, emotionally stunted Michael Jackson type sprung to mind.
All righty, another Wilder fan.
I don’t often watch motion picture re-makes. In fact, I’m having trouble remembering my watching any re-make of a movie. I think this makes me uniquely qualified to choose Wilder over that other fellow.
Well, sheesh, how couldn’t you choose Wilder in that case?
But you should give the Depp version a try and get back to me. I’d be curious about your thoughts.
My ignorance allows me to hold on to my certainty. (It’s not a very strong argument, is it?)
If I may question the focus of this debate, I would like to suggest that the key to understanding the story is in how Charlie is presented and how he is changed, or revealed.
Who is the better Charlie?
Oh, Angel, you seem like a very nice person, but whyyyyy is someone who hasn’t seen the movies trying to change the focus of the debate?
It’s been so long since anyone called me Angel.
I’m sorry to have disrupted what seems like a interesting though pointless debate. I thought it was all a bit of fun. If some of your readers would like to stretch themselves, I thought that some consideration might be given to Charlie as the center of the first motion picture. I may be wrong—my memory!—but wasn’t it Charlie who learned something from his visit?
Pointless?! This is the most important debate ever!
Actually — and Cricket, might disagree with me here, Charlie really doesn’t grow or change in either movie. He’s always a pleasant and good boy. The Wonkas change, though. Wilder’s faith in goodness is restored and Depp’s learns how to become a member of a family.
Ha! You’ve got me thinking about the first film again. I thought it was delightful, though Dahl apparently disowned the effort. (The lesson is probably that writers should never sell their rights to filmmakers.)
Do you really think that Wonka’s faith was restored? You may very well be correct, but I always suspected that Wonka would continue to be manipulative until his death.
As for Charlie, I think he faced real temptation for the first time in his life and overcame the impulse for revenge. He grew into manhood in a sense, even disobeying, or at least discounting, Grandpa Joe’s wishes.
Shall we now discuss the Oompa-Loompas as slave labour? (I’m kidding. Or am I?)
Peace to you and your debate opponent.
Geeze! I lost track of this comment! Sorry about that.
I don’t remember Charlie being seriously tempted in the first movie. I do, remember several other characters (including crummy Grandpa Joe) attempting to tempt him. The kid was pure of heart straight through both movies.
haha-Wilder wins even thinking about Depp. Sorry, Mike.
You’re gloating over votes based in ignorance now? This is becoming unseemly, Cricket!
That was a chortle of delight. My integrity is being maligned. Ref call!
As the ref, I’ll allow said maligning.
And I have witnesses…
Wilder is the most authentic Wonka. He had a soul and cared. Depp was too dark — watched the movie once and gave it a way. Depp is a shape-shifter, who hides behind masks. But in this movie for kids, he’s all wrong. I like him in Finding Neverland. Thumbs down in Willy Wonka!
Nicely stated, Patricia. Call out the squirrels on Depp!
Ah, but Burton’s squirrel scene was sooooo much better than Wilder’s bad egg scene.
This has nothing to do with the debate. Just sayin’.
On that point I do agree. The fact that they trained squirrels specifically for that scene is impressive (and excessive—like Depp’s Wonka—that’s just nuts.
Well, everything about both Wonka factories is excessive.
Oh, I loved Finding Neverland, too! One of Depp’s best, that’s for sure. Black Mass was also fantastic.
But my favorite Depp role is probably Ed Wood.
I’m a Wilder fan…he is Wonka…no, maybe it’s Depp…no Wilder…no Depp…
Good debate! If I didn’t have such a bias for Wilder, I might have thought about crossing sides. Bottom line, Depp was creepy and never inspired me to visit a chocolate factory or even eat chocolate. Besides, there was a moral to the Wilder version…which got completely lost in the Depp version.
Depp went down. In flames. Like his puppets. Thanks for your astute observations!
Dangit, Cricket, the puppet fire was funny!
And then, later on, remember the newly christened puppet burn unit? That’s worth at least a chortle.
Hanging out with you is sharpening my wit.
Well, at least my arguments made you *consider* switching sides. I think that’s the closest I’m gonna come to Depp votes around these parts!
Take ’em where you can, Mike. 😉
I agree with Mike that Depp plays a more believable recluse-Wonka and with Cricket that Wilder is more user-friendly.
As for better? My vote is neither. Keep trying, Hollywood.
Mike will get cranky if a firm vote isn’t made. Just saying.
Weeelllll, I haven’t seen either version. It’s a weird story with disagreeable characters. I know, my bad. So my credentials regarding this debate topic are disqualifying. I did think that both of you presented your erudite arguments with finesse and humor. And I do like both actors. Well done, I think. 😀
Just choose with your heart. And don’t let Mike get to you with his nostalgia strategy.
Ha ha ha. I’ve not getting in the middle of this one. But I hope that next time I’ll be familiar enough with the topic to have an opinion. 🙂 I’m very opinionated.
Okay. We’ll be looking forward to a decisive post.
Actually, you do make a good point. I wouldn’t want to have coffee with either Wonka.
Ha ha. Me neither. Very bad things could happen.
Maybe Cricket and I shoulda talked about The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Um… sure. I clearly need to watch more television.
My heart is now broken, sir. Depp? Say it ain’t so! I’m firmly on Team Wilder. His Wonka left you uncertain about his character and motives, with an unsettling gleam in his eye, cynical world-weariness, and a touch of the sinister about him. And bless him, his hair was as unruly as mine.
Depp, on the other hand, creeped me out. (I realize this isn’t the most intellectual of character reviews but there it is.)
And now I want an everlasting gobstopper.
I knew it! Mike is bribing folk! Yellow card—
I hear you. It’s hard to support such a weird and creepy portrayal of the character. And Wilder — even a sinister Wilder — can’t help but be compellingly charming. That said, Depp’s channelling of Michael Jackson and Howard Hughes, feels more genuine to me considering Wonka’s reclusive and antisocial behavior.
But the IMPORTANT thing is that we are still pals.
Mike, unfortunately I could not disagree more with your argument for Depp over Wilder.. First off I do not just characterize, Willy as a mere recluse, that would forget how to interact with people. He is someone who mistrusts people, which has caused him to be a borderline sociopath. You and Cricket, both seem to feel the sociopath choice as a negative, but to me it is the more complex choice. He knows very well how to deal with people, he just does not care to much about them. As evidenced by Wonka’s cavalier, nonchalant, and ironically cynical response to when Augustus falls into the river, and his mother is screaming for help. “Help, police, murder” all said barely over a whisper. He cares about purity, which is why he is concerned more about the chocolate river than Augustus. He unfortunately does not find purity often in humans, and he chooses to not interact with them, which is much different than forgetting how.
Depp, and the basis for your argument, is going for the simpler and more obvious choice to be made. That is Willy, is a recluse and should be awkward around people because of that. Depp’s Willy, is just that, which makes him merely reactionary to the elements around him. Wilder’s Willy, is whimsical and quirky as well, but it is hardly ever reactionary. He is in control. Depp’s Willy may be a more logical conclusion to the facts set up in the characters general backstory, but Wilder’s is the more nuanced and more complex choice. He acts this way to protect himself, and to seek out only others who possess this purity he seeks…..aka the oompa loompas. This purity is what he is obsessed with finding. He sees this purity in Charlie, and it is why he eventually gives him the factory because he is the first person that is truly worthy. Charlie giving the gobstopper back to Wonka is demonstrating that Charlie, although not completely pure himself, respects purity above all things, and is willing to turn away from something that demonstrates itself to be lacking such purity, as Wonka did when he told Charlie he was getting nothing.
From a sheer acting choice perspective you should not be rewarding the easier to come to acting choice, that Depp made, and should be rewarding and praising the more complex and much better acting choices Wilder made. But that is just how I see it.
P.S. how Dahl feels about either of their portrayals is moot. And as a rebuttal that will demonstrate this fact….Stephen King hated Kubrick’s Shining but loved that horrible made for TV movie he had made.
So this is a win for Team Wilder?
You make killer points AND you explain Wilder’s motivations well. So well, in fact, you have shaken — if not broken — my pro-Depp stance.
That said, I wouldn’t say Depp’s version of the character is the “simpler” or more “obvious” acting choice. It is a more daring choice, actually, one that strays further from Dahl’s depiction of the character in both “Chocolate Factory” and “Great Glass Elevator.” His character is more unappealing that Wilder’s, that’s for sure, but Depp is also doing a bit of acting jujitsu here; he is asking audiences to like and sympathize with a character that is, by his very nature, weird, awkward, and off-putting. Whether Depp succeeds in this acting effort is up for debate, of course. But Depp is trying something far more difficult that Wilder.
Wilder is just being Wilder. In every role Wilder is always Wilder. Wilder is wonderful, mind you. I love watching Wilder movies. But what Wilder does is not immersive or challenging acting, it is a movie-by-movie reenforcement of the appealing Wilder brand.
And quite the analysis. Kudos. Sorry I have no Gobstoppers. Mike has a few, I do believe.
First of all, this debate was a BRILLIANT idea.
Both of you did a wonderful job of laying out your case. I do hope you do another one sometime!
Since I have never seen the Depp version, I would have to vote Wilder.
I haven’t read the book, something I must correct. Watching the clips above with Depp in them, I have to say that they just seem dark and creepy to me which doesn’t make me want to watch that version.
The children and the parents in the Wilder movie were awful. They deserved everything they got and probably much more. And he didn’t really hurt them, he just taught them a lesson. Charlie was the only decent kid there. Other than living with all 4 grandparents in poverty (I’ve always thought the 4 grandparents sharing the same bed, more than just a little weird), he seems more like a normal child who has grown up in a family with love and discipline.
Charlie was picked to carry on the business because he was a well balanced character and not someone who was totally selfish and spoiled. Character flaws like the ones those spoiled, bratty kids had, do not make good businessman.
I loved Wilder’s tongue in cheek comments to the parents as they entered the gate. Living a reclusive lifestyle probably because he was tired of annoying, selfish people. I would prefer to call him an introvert who was tired of pretending to be nice to obnoxious people and that’s why he was reclusive.
Everything you say is accurate. Buuut, you should give the Depp version a try. Whether you like his portrayal or not, I think you’ll still find the movie to be a whole lot of fun.
Fair enough, but at the ripe old age of 57, I can actually see the sand leaving the hourglass and I am trying to expend my time on only the worthiest of endeavors. You should be flattered your blog made the list.
Jeeze, you’re only 10 years older than me. Settle down, you.
See, this is what I get when I make myself scarce because I’m trying to work. I miss the event of the season! I haven’t seen either of these movies, so I have no opinion—although I used to have a fondness for Depp’s chiseled cheekbones. Cricket’s description of Wilder’s character sounds like the right one for a traditional children’s book interpretation. Depp’s, well, I’m thinking that Dahl would have preferred the darker version, definitely…..
Well, I am late to the debate. First let me say that I am a fan of both actors and their skills in telling a story. Heck, I even bought tickets to see Depp in concert with his Hollywood Vampires. In this case, however, Wilder is the man for the job. It is the vulnerability that oozes out of him even when he is being diabolical. Depp has the ability to do this also, but that is not the choice he made for this role. He comes off a lot less vulnerable and just sticks with the psychotic. Sorry Mike.
Wilder!! Hands DOWN! I have seen both movies and though Johnny Depp does aok, the entire premise was changed from the first movie. I thought it was weird and creepy (because that is what Depp does best) and I was sorely disappointed he took a classic and mucked with it. Some things should just be left alone!!! what’s next?? Gone with the Wind? Can you imagine Depp in the role as Rhett Butler??? OMG!
Wilder. Yes, yes, I know. Everybody prefers Wilder. Sheesh!