Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and its original mood, manner, and visualization from the novel (Part 1)

Since it was published in America in 1964, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) has become a classic of children’s literature.  The book is still assigned reading in many middle school and high school curricula and has spawned two film adaptations, 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Tim Burton’s 2005 fantasy, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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violet charlie and the chocolate factory

Although Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has become a generational touchstone for kids raised in the 1970s (myself included), the recent Tim Burton adaptation is, surprisingly, far more faithful to the Roald Dahl novel in terms of mood, manner, and visualization.  As is the case in the Dahl book, the 2005 film deftly critiques both capitalist society — which creates a vast gulf between the economic well-being of Willy Wonka and Charlie Bucket — and the mores of contemporary child-rearing.

On the second conceptual front, the Tim Burton movie has updated many of Dahl’s satirical flourishes for 21st century consumption, turning Mike Teavee into a video game-a-holic and Violet Beauregard into a pre-adolescent over-achiever.  But despite such minor updates, the intent of both works remains to hold up a mirror to society at large and address something seemingly flawed in the prevailing social structure.  Naturally, both book and movie accomplish this task in entertaining fashion, as a seemingly “harmless” fairy tale meant for kids.

Like Dahl, Burton is an expert in the creation of fantastic and grotesque worlds, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory provides him ample opportunity to showcase his stellar, off-beat imagination.  Dahl’s slapstick humor, and exaggerated settings — namely an impossibly bizarre factory interior — thus find new life in Burton’s audacious visualizations, which critic Peter Bradshaw accurately described as conveying  “a retro Day-Glo 1960s” vibe.

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Furthermore, Burton’s fascinating addition of a Willy Wonka back-story represents the director’s stylistic personalization or interpretation of the source material, and functions in some sense, even, as an improvement over the novel’s story.  In particular,  Burton gives Willy “father” issues, and this aspect of the movie plays perfectly into the social criticism of modern-day parenting underlining the entire affair.

It’s easy to gaze at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and see only a colorful kiddie flick, a silly, inconsequential fantasy, but in this entertaining film, Burton has retained so much of what made Dahl’s work unique, and, in fact, added something to the experience.  He’s done so by co-opting the literary imagery of Charles Dickens (1812-1870) and even the choreographic style of Busby Berkeley (1895-1976).   In toto, the film is another remarkable triumph for the director, and I must admit, I wasn’t expecting the film to be so damned good.

As critic Stephanie Zacharek wrote in Salon: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film couldn’t have emerged from anywhere but the dark, chambered nautilus of Burton’s imagination — in its best parts, it’s magically deranged in a way no other moviemaker could even come close to nailing it.”

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charlie and the chocolate factory mike teavee

Magically deranged.  That about says it all.

“You can’t run a chocolate factory with a family hanging over you like an old, dead goose.”

In Charlie The Chocolate Factory 2005 movie, eccentric candy-maker Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) has distributed five golden tickets to visit his factory in the unusual and delicious Wonka candy bars.   This act sets off a world-wide search for the five elusive tickets.

The first ticket is found by an obese glutton, Augustus Gloop (Philip Weigratz).  The second is “procured” by a millionaire-industrialist for his indulged daughter, Veruca Salt (Julia Winter).  The third ticket is found by a gum-chewing over-achiever, Violet Beauregard (Annasophia Robb) and the fourth by a smart-aleck video-game aficionado, Mike Teavee (Adam Godley).

Rather unexpectedly, the final ticket falls into the hands of the modest and kind Charlie Bucket (Freddy Highmore), a boy who lives in poverty in a ramshackle house on the outskirts of town with his parents and grandparents.  At first, Charlie decides to sell the ticket to pay for food because his father has recently lost his job, but Charlie’s grandpa, Joe (David Kelly) convinces him he should keep it.

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Together, Grandpa Joe and Charlie meet Willy Wonka at the factory, and tour the various rooms of his amazing candy factory.  These include The Chocolate Room, the Inventing Room, the Nut Room, and the TV Room.

In each room, one of the young visitors falls prey to a strange industrial accident. Augustus Gloop is sucked up into a giant chocolate pipe (or straw?).  Violet is turned into a giant blueberry after sampling Wonka’s experimental three-course-meal-chewing gum, Veruca is tossed down a garbage chute in the Nut Room, and Mike Teavee is sucked into a television…then shrunken down to size by the experience.  In all instances, Wonka’s bizarre workers, the Oompa-Loompas (Deep Roy) sing songs about the fallen children.

In the end, Charlie is the only child to remain standing on the entire tour, and Wonka reveals he would like him to be his heir.  The only catch: Charlie must do it alone; without the family who helped get him here…

“Candy doesn’t have to have a point. That’s why it’s candy.”

Candy doesn’t need to have a point, but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 2005 movie certainly makes a few.

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In his artistic selections, Burton enhances the novel’s social critique of runaway, out-of-control capitalism.

In particular, Burton opens Charlie The Chocolate Factory film with a truly Dickension flourish by showcasing a wintry, industrial city where a vast gulf exists between the wealthy and the poor.  Charlie lives in little more than a hovel, and watches as his father loses his job in the local toothpaste factory.  The Wonka factory dominates the landscape, both a foreboding and mysterious place.

A proponent of social reform himself, Charles Dickens’ satires often showcased the hardships of the working class in London, and pointed out the anti-human and inhumane nature of big industry during his time.  Like Dahl, Dickens is well-known for his black humor and colorfully-named characters, as well. What Burton achieves here so brilliantly is the fanciful merging of the two artists.  He enhances Dahl’s words with imagery of poverty, industry and inequality right out of Oliver Twist.  Of course, there’s also a modern spin on the idea of runaway industry since automation at the factory is the thing that puts both Mr. Bucket and Grandpa Joe out of work.  This aspect of the film certainly speaks to our national context today, in the era of the one percenters and the 99ers.

Look forward to reading the second part of our review on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and its original mood, manner, and visualization from the novel (Part 1)
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