Kenn (kenoubi) wrote,

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

On Friday, Ratha and I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. These are just some opinions of mine. This is not intended as a review.

Well, let's start with the positive. The movie was pretty amusing (as, of course, a children's movie almost must be). The “bad” children, in particular Violet and Veruca, were over the top by just a small enough amount that you could imagine real kids just like them.

I found the middle half (the part inside the factory, basically) full of drug references, also amusing. Two of them were even overt (chocolate as an aphrodisiac and “had a flashback”). But, two people who ought to know better than I have told me they didn't think there were many drug references at all.

The movie was very visually appealing. The special effects were obviously updated, but beyond that the costumes and sets were well-done. I liked the music as well.

The scene at the end with Wonka and his father was kind of touching.

Now for the negative. I should warn you that I'm currently re-reading The Fountainhead, and this colors my perspective (although not, I think, in a way that makes it untrue to my own true beliefs). The movie was morally just about the antithesis of what I believe in or what I'd want my kids to absorb.

In the 1971 version of the story, Charlie is solicited for secrets from Wonka's factory by a man he believes to be a spy (though it later turns out he works for Wonka). In the middle of the movie, Charlie and Grandpa Joe take Fizzy Lifting Drinks without authorization and get the grate at the top of the room dirty. When all the other children have been eliminated and the tour is over, Wonka states that Charlie has lost because of the Fizzy Lifting Drink incident, but then reverses his decree when Charlie returns the Everlasting Gobstopper he could have given to the spy.

The meaning of this sequence was that Charlie had some independent moral value; he was called on to maintain integrity when it would hurt him to do so and followed through even though he believed he had already lost. It was cut from the new movie, which explicitly states that Charlie wins only because he was the least rotten.

In its place, Charlie initially refuses Wonka's offer when Wonka (because of his own bizarre history) states that Charlie will never be allowed to see his family again if he accepts. Charlie actually has fire in his eyes as he makes this decision, but it failed to convince me of his moral value because 1) family, absent some particular reason to value them, are among the least significant of traditional values in my opinion, and it was never made vivid to me why Charlie would value them so much, other than perhaps Grandpa Joe; and 2) even if he does value them so much, that simply makes it a benefit to him to stay with them—there is no difficult choice involved, no sacrifice (Charlie's failure to waver actually counts against him here, in my opinion).

The treatment of Mike Teavee, on the other hand, actually made me angry. I empathized with him in the latest movie (unlike the earlier one where his only salient characteristic was watching a lot of TV), since as a child (perhaps even now) I found it pretty easy to understand mechanical / logical systems, whereas other people were frequently baffling. It seemed to me like Mike was arbitrarily made ruder than any kid in his position actually would have been for the sole purpose of giving a reason to dislike him. But what was especially infuriating was that Mike applied the best knowledge available to him to assert that Wonka was wrong about the TV that could transmit matter, and then was eliminated by being wrong (in spite of the best efforts he could possibly have exerted to be right), not by being rude. Be it on a small scale, the movie nevertheless came out explicitly against intellect while muddling the issue with irrelevant character traits.

One other item of poor taste: I thought that showing the children leaving the factory was a grotesque excuse to use a few more special effects, in a movie that already had plenty.

Ratha pointed out a couple more problems. First, Wonka's “spies” are unrealistic, because in real life, Wonka's formulas would have been protected as trade secrets. There would have been no need to shut the factory down. Even in a world without such trade secret protection, surely Wonka would have wised up after an incident or two and required all his employees to sign contracts to the effect that they would be personally bankrupted if they leaked his techniques. Personally, I think I'm willing to grant a bit of artistic license on this issue, but it certainly could be a bit of a flourish in a pro-IP argument (hmm, any overlap between Hollywood and strong IP supporters? Maybe a little? Granted, this was in the book as well...)

More importantly, Wonka is portrayed as being the sole source of value in the candy industry, for seemingly no reason other than that he was abused as a child. How could Wonka invent all these unbelievable products while he was bat-shit crazy? And could all the other candy manufacturers really have been so incompetent that they needed to steal Wonka's ideas to even compete? Even The Fountainhead has one good architect in it other than Roark! While I am a supporter of a greater recognition of individual achievements than is sometimes given in this society, it seems like the model proposed here is that hard work and collaboration are totally useless in the creative process, whereas secluding yourself in a factory with some peyote might be the way to go.

The thing that worries me the most about this is that no one other than Ratha with whom I've spoken about the movie has agreed with my complaints, and no one whose writing about the movie I've read has commented on them. It makes me wonder (a very tiny bit) if I might be crazy for seeing these things.

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