Daniel was watching TV the other day when I walked into the room.
“Whatcha watching?” I queried.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, he replied.
I plopped down next to him on the couch. I loved the book, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by my favorite childrens author, Roald Dahl. l I was hoping I would like this version of the movie as much as I liked the book. It was not to be.
When I was young and I wasn’t trudging two miles up a hill in the snow to get to school, I enjoyed the 1971 film adaptation, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” The original was a bit spooky in parts and Gene Wilder was a part spacey, part menacing Willy Wonka. Johnny Depp (a superb actor, by the way), gets to be an even weirder Wonka. With his ghostly pallor and unusually perfect teeth (a dentist’s child, of course), Depp takes creepy candy maker to another level.
And, as a 40-something mom, I am inclined to believe that the adaption that I grew up with is the superior one. Granted, watching Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe) and newcomer Peter Ostrum (the first Charlie) dancing and warbling “I’ve Got A Golden Ticket” decidedly off-key is not necessarily the most polished song-and-dance act I’ve seen in a movie. However, there is a sort of sweetness about it that the newer version seems to have lost.
The distaste I had for the newest Wonka movie was worse than an Everlasting Gobstopper on its worst day. Daniel seemed enthralled by the misadventures of the children in the movie and it left me feeling like he was being robbed. Robbed of authenticity, of genuineness, of everything not having to be so darned perfect in the movies today. For instance, there are no tone deaf renditions of “Golden Ticket” in the latest Wonka film. And all the Oompa Loompas in the Depp movie are not individual actors but a computer generated version of one actor–how bogus! The previous Oompa Loompas even had catchier songs.
This realization, of course, had me examining all the childrens movies of yesteryear and asking the question: Are the standards in kids’ movies today too perfect? Take, for instance, two childhood classics: “Mary Poppins” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” In “Mary Poppins,” American Dick Van Dyke pulls off the worst cockney accent in cinematic history–today the role would go to Colin Firth. In “Chitty,” perennial favorite Van Dyke shows up yet again in England, however, this time, he has no English accent. Ironically, (and hysterically), his kids and father are as English as bangers and mash. Somehow, I don’t think this would fly with today’s youth or even today’s filmmakers. To me, the idea of “perfecting” a charming imperfection seems cold and too sanitized.
One day, I know I will have to face the fact that they are going to remake more of my childhood favorites and sterialize them to the point that all the humaness is rubbed away. I perish the thought at my beloved “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” being remade into some stylish, slick production, devoid of all enchantment and character. I’ll miss Van Dyke’s film children singing woefully off-key, only to be replaced by Glee-tastic six year olds. Today’s children would never be as terrified of the child catcher as I was as a child; I had to view his appearances through my fingers. The youth of today would never stand for substandard special effects of the flying car or, most laughably, an intermission! In an age of DVRs, TiVo, and View on Demand, the idea of an intermission seems archaic. And impossibly, unretrievably, old-fashioned and sweet.
When Daniel’s movie was over, I turned to him and asked, “What did you think of that?”
“It was ok,” was his nonchalant reply.
“Wanna watch a real classic with me?” I asked, anxiously. “Let’s watch “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, Dan.”
“You know that car doesn’t really fly, right Mom?”
I turned to him and smiled. “I know, but we can get popcorn during the intermission!”