Golden tickets abound! King is set to re-imagine Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
Paul King really won our trust with the Paddington franchise. Before bringing our favorite duffle coat-wearing, marmalade-loving anthropomorphic bear to the big screen, King made a name for himself with The Mighty Boosh and Come Fly with Me. But it’s doubtful that he’s bound to return to TV anytime soon when big opportunities in film keep coming. Up next: Willy Wonka.
As announced by The Hollywood Reporter, King will be adapting Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” from a script by Simon Rich (Inside Out, The Secret Life of Pets) that will be titled simply Willy Wonka. While this doesn’t indicate a giant shift away from Dahl’s focus on the eponymous Charlie in the books, the THR report seems to hint at a possible divergence in the script that could account for the specific title change.
Willy Wonka will be part of a slew of efforts done at Warner Bros. to revamp old or ailing franchises. A Lobo movie is apparently going to be a thing as WB reshuffles their DC properties, but with a new Dahl adaptation, I suppose that’s a fair hand dealt. A new Cat in the Hat movie is also currently in development at WB’s animation arm, and it seems that the studio is covering all bases.
As far as reinvigorating franchises go, Willy Wonka is kind of a sure thing, if we look at King’s track record. Willy Wonka will obviously entrust King with yet another iconic character from our childhoods, but he seems to know how to deftly combine source material with his whimsical touch. Willy Wonka is perhaps a far more bizarre character than Paddington — that is, if a chocolate factory owner could be stranger than a talking bear. But as an eccentric candy maker who also looks after Oompa-Loompahs, and who seems to enact very extreme punishments on children who are greedy and entitled, to say a suspension of belief is necessary to understanding Wonka’s appeal is an understatement.
Adapting Dahl is thus probably more demanding than translating the generally more straightforwardly family-friendly Paddington to the big screen. The inherent darkness that infuses the Wonka stories have to be balanced out by the whimsy that characterized King’s Paddington films. If the Wes Anderson comparisons made of King’s work are anything to go by, coupled with his experience on Boosh, that might not be a huge problem. Now, whether Willy Wonka will be a closer adaptation to the original than what Dahl felt Mel Stuart’s 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was, remains to be seen. This is where the title change proves to be a little telling as well, because Dahl hated that the 1971 film seemed to focus more on Wonka than Charlie. Gene Wilder may be an indelible Wonka, but he did not please the author.
But something that actually makes a new Willy Wonka genuinely exciting is the prospect of a new generation being introduced to a modern Wonka onscreen without having to look to Johnny Depp and his bad wig in Tim Burton’s 2005 version. The hair was probably the least of Depp’s problems when his performance absolutely did not live up to any of the children’s in Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Where Freddie Highmore soars as Charlie, Depp flounders, and perhaps it’s because he’d fallen into a pattern with Burton-directed films. His performance is, for the most part, devoid of charm.
King’s real task with Willy Wonka is really to find a way to bridge both prior adaptations, as they seem to be on either end of the spectrum. Stuart’s version is definitely far more family-friendly than Burton’s, but the latter sacrificed an iconic character to achieve its end goal. However, King gives reason to believe that he and his crew will at least find suitable performers who are able to strike a chord with an audience as Wonka; just look at how perfect Ben Whishaw ended up being as Paddington. While Willy Wonka would have to be less feel-good in some ways, there is an unabashed heart in the story that centers on humility and kindness. King could certainly deliver on that front.