Warning: spoiler coming.
We saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Sunday (an enaged 3:30 afternoon crowd: average age about 15 years – so they laughed at the jokes and applauded at the end). This version (with some reworking from the book, apparently) brings out Wonka as a magus, pulls the corporate greed fable forward, and holds on to the capitalist contradictions that keep the film a fable. This version expands Wonka’s childhood (teeth, braces, over-bearing professional father. Wonka’s not evil; he just had an oppressive upbringing), and brings out his corporate nastiness (closing the factory owing to an act of corporate betrayal and throwing workers [including one of Charlie’s grandfathers] into poverty, the imperialism in hiring aboriginal Oompa Loompas to replace the local workers – a collection of clones who will work for food) on the way to coming to his own understanding of his actions. “Redemption” is too strong a word: Wonka’s final change is a personal acceptance of his father rather than reinstating of the workers, and Charlie promises only to become a corporate heir of Wonka, to continue Wonka’s direction. That may be compassionate, but it’s hardly redeeming.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the final moment of pulling back to reveal the meta-narrative construction (coating the entire scene with icing sugar!) for a moment (a Burton addition, no doubt), but it’s a nice grace note on the story-as-fable. The twist is in who’s telling the tale, and in who’s service.
The film reviews have comments and notes on Depp, Bonham Carter, Burton, effects, directing, and the musical numbers. The film is well worth seeing twice for the acting, direction, cinematography, and allegory. You won’t find much about the fable in the reviews. This is supposed to be a good time film (chocolate covered in icing sugar), and so we’re supposed to ignore the mind behind the curtain. That’s part of the fable, part of the joke for Wonka. Play along.
And a bonus random irony: Both Dahl’s of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Wikipedia entry) and John Fowles’s The Magus (a synopsis) are on listed on Booklore.uk, The Big Read. If I were teaching contemporary Brit Lit this year, both books would be on the reading list – as would the Burton film. It’s common knowledge that the film version of The Magus was the worst film ever made.