Film Adaptations : (Case Study) Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

In the process of adapting literary works to the screen or play medium, the adapter must capture the essence of the novel by staying true to the plot and characters related in the original source material.

Roald Dahl wrote the novel of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory

for children. The characters in the novel represent a duality between good and bad, humble and cocky, and poor and the rich. The plot is about a wondrous world of people hearing about Willy Wonka’s confectionary genius and the select few characters who will take part in his world by winning a contest.

Were the two films, the first “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory” (Mel Stuart 1972) and the second movie directed by (Tim Burton, 2005) a good adaptation to the above standards? Yes and no.

For the most part, several large chunks of dialogue were taken directly from the source material and adapted into both movies. For example, the scene where Violet takes the gum from Wonka and starts chewing in Mel Stuart’s version, she says “Just as long as it is a piece of gum, and I can chew it, then that’s for me” (Dahl, 95) to when she blows up as a blueberry and Wonka says  “It always goes wrong when we come to dessert” (Dahl, 97) is just an elementary reason how the essence of the novel was captured in the character of Violet.

The characters of Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt and Violet Beauregarde were both equally demented in both films in resemblance to the novel adaptation. Augustus Gloop is portrayed the typical aloof rich fat kid, that is too busy to think about anything but eating. Veruca Salt is a terribly spoiled, demanding and manipulative child. Violet is an over competitive, obsessive tomboy that is very loud and rude. These character traits of these children match exactly what Dahl has written about them, which would make them sucessfully adapted from the original source.

Richard Krevolin, author of How to Adapt Anything into a Screenplay says on stylistic choices, “ You will have the burden to make the story better. It must be clearer, faster and funnier than the source material.” (Krevolin, 12) Veruca, In Stuart’s version sings a song “ I want it now” and the most definitive part of her song was “I want the works, I want the whole works, presents and prizes and sweets and surprises, of all shapes and sizes and now, don’t care how I want it now. ”She exemplifies Dahl’s character as a source of greed that fits the plot. Augustus Gloop, in Stuart’s version, is shown wearing a tuxedo to show he is rich and snobby as Dahl explains Augustus. (Dahl, 22)

The character of Mike Teavee in the movies by Burton and Stuart do not closely resemble the character of Dahl’s character of Mike. Mike Teavee is portrayed as as nine-year-old in the novel that was particularly obsessed with violent gangster films. He wore about 18 pistols on his body and he was interested in violence in gangster films while being desensitized to violence on TV. While Dahl wrote him as an assertive character and the two directors of the movies followed in adaptation, the movies changed his character. In the 2005 version, he also liked video games and he is angry kid. Mike is scientifically literate and quite clever despite his excessive TV time because of his access to TV and technology. This correlation does not make sense in the beginning, but serves to understand his  charcter later in the movie. What Burton is trying to insuinate is preposterous and has nothing whatsoever to do with what Dahl is try to communicate that watching TV makes you lazy and unproductive. So, Burton’s Mike Teavee’s charcter is a flawed version of Dahl’s Mike although it serves purposes at the end of the movie after we already do not like the unsuccessful adaptated Mike. This character description did not capture the essence of Mike’s character in Dahl and after Burton describes Mike, it is hard to be truthful with many stylistic techniques until the end of the movie explained later.

The most important characters were Charlie Bucket and Willy Wonka. Both were successfully adaptated to the screen, but both characters in the films were lacking in emotions that failed to truly capture the essence of both characters. Krevolin, quotes Michael Hauge, author of writing screenplays that sell, “All filmmaking, and all storytelling has one primary objective: to elicit emotion of the audience.” (Krevolin, 195) Emotions adaptated from the original source material is relevant and also missing in all characters, especially the main characters of Willy Wonka and Charlie Bucket.

Both directors have subsequentially failed in some respects in not providing much needed emotional backstory in capturing the essence of Charlie’s struggle to form the plot of the story and his character. Charlie was a poverty-stricken boy and he was poor. The directors of both movies showed his broken down cottage housing seven people and showed his family did not have enough money to buy a chocolate bar if only once a year for his birthday.

Charlie’s character has so much more of a struggle than what is portrayed in  both movies, and so the audience is depraved of more empathetic emotions like Hauge has stated in Krevolin’s book. For example, in Dahl, Charlie is depicted as a frail, weak and deprived of necessary food to grow. Dahl starts this exposition by telling the reader          “ There is something about very cold weather that gives one an appetite.” (Dahl, 37)

Dahl continues, “ As the cold weather went on, Charlie becomes ravenously and desperately hungry.” (Dahl, 38) For some reason, Stuart and Burton totally miss this aspect of his hunger to make the audience empathetic, which takes away from the adaptation rather than capitalizes on the essence of Charlie in his character. Dahl goes on ” Charlie Bucket grew thinner and thinner each day, as Grandpa Joe mentions that the kid’s gotta eat more food and he is starting to become a skeleton.” (Dahl, 40) Finally, at the height of desperation, Dahl writes “ He began to make changes in his strength, while the other boys played at recess during school, he sat quietly in the class reserving his strength.” (Dahl, 40)

If Stuart or Burton would mention this in the other characters dialogue more than once and maybe show him on a hospital bed because of this, audiences that received catharsis by reading the book would receive the same when Charlie finds the dollar and purchases the chocolate bars and wins the golden ticket.

A strength of this adaptation in Mel Stuart’s version that captures the essence of the novel by staying true to the plot and character is Willy Wonka. On the day when the children and crowds met at Willy Wonka’s gate to see him, they were presently surprised in Stuart’s movie when he first appeared and fooled the audience into thinking he was old and fragile by limping to the gate, then doing a backflip that surprised the crowd. The children and the audience were watching this and were surprised. This was a slick stylistic move on the part of Stuart and Burton that parlayed Krevolin’s quote earlier “that you will have the burden of making the story better” (Krevolin, 12). In the novel, the audience enjoyed Willy Wonka’s entrance, making it quick and sharp and then suddenly “did a funny little skipping dance in the snow and spread his arms wide and smiled at the five children” (Dahl, 58) The audience watcher of this would most likely enjoy the movie version entrance in Stuart’s version than over the novel because it adaptated the mysteriousness in Wonka’s character.

Willy Wonka is an eccentric, dark and mysterious man that had an odd sense of humor in Dahl’s novel. Stuart and  Gene Wilder’s version preserves and elaborates the essence of Willy Wonka’s character and does a great adaptation of Dahl’s Wonka. Dahl constantly describes Wonka’s twinkle in his eyes and this is constantly present in Gene Wilder’s performance. Wilder is constantly excited by every invention that Dahl’s Wonka has made, especially in the creating room. The “Everlasting Gobstopper”, the “Lickable Wallpaper”, the “3-Course Gum” and “Wonka Vision.” Are some of the inventions among many. Wilder shows an affection for that reinforces Dahl’s character thru and thru from the novel.

Almost every sentence Wonka mentions in the chocolate room is followed by an exclamation point in the novel and Wilder acts well maintaining a lower key than the novel dialogue but nonetheless successful in capturing emotions and the essence of the character for the adaptation. Before the children walk into the chocolate room, Wonka in the novel excitedly exclaims “ An important room this!” “This is the nerve center of the whole factory, the heart of the whole business!” (Dahl, 63) Wilder’s Wonka attributes a better introduction that reinforces the character in the movie for the adaptation speaking  ”Inside this room is where all dreams become reality and all realities become dreams.”

The magic is gone with Depp and his terrible performance in the chocolate room. The chocolate room is a magical room. Before we go on, this thesis is trying to prove many points. It is not reviewing scene by scene or providing a review of the movie. This chocolate room is a plot point in the story and of extreme importance to these two film’s successful adaptations from the original source by Dahl. Dahl’s Wonka says about the grass “ The grass you are standing on, my dear little ones is made of a new kind of soft minty sugar that I’ve just invented.” He encourages them to eat it, as everything is edible in that room. Krevolin says the key to a successful adaptation is “not to do a verbatim and faithful transcription which in many ways is impossible anyway, but to capture the truth of the original work and convey that onscreen.” (Krevolin, 10)

Now wait a minute, he says the adaptation should not be word for word, but still capture the magic of the scene and most audiences would agree. So why is it that Depp mentions cannibalism in this magic scene? He says “everything is edible in this room, including me, but that is not accepted in most cultures.” He killed the scene right there. The magic is gone from this scene. The audience feels stagnant and confused about the character of Wonka and the plot that does not carry any emotion that Hauge talked about.  Furthermore, it does not convey any truth about the scene with such irrelevance.  This part is not an adaptation of Dahl’s magic world.

Burton failed miserably in the plot and character of Willy Wonka in this opening scene in other areas. While Dahl’s Wonka was much happier with a twisted sense of humor at the same time, Johnny Depp played a very distracted and uninvolved Wonka. Instead, Wonka in this very important scene is supposed to set the stage for the rest of the novel and movie.  When Dahl’s Wonka sees Augustus sipping the chocolate, he warns Augustus to “come away, because he is dirtying the chocolate.” (Dahl, 72)  His dark humor tells the woman to calm down because Augustus won’t become chocolate fudge because the chocolate would taste terrible. Gene Wilder’s Wonka followed suit with similar anecdotes in this scene. However, Depp horrendously gives a very dull reaction, which doesn’t forward the action, the plot or enhance his character because he seems as if he doesn’t care about the chocolate getting ruined or his entire chocolate factory for that matter.

While Burton and Depp failed with such unnecessary dialogue, Stuart and Wilder succeeded way beyond expectations with their stylistic choice.

Wilder begins to sing as the doors open, the most beautiful song, “Pure Imagination” to encapsulate Dahl’s world in the most perfect way. The first plot point is enhanced dramatically from the original text in the movie. It is clear by reading the novel by Dahl, that Willy Wonka is supposed to be animated and in this scene alone makes Stuart’s adaptation a success.

The audience at this point in the movie and novel knows that Wonka is happy and comedic, they still do not know his creepy, eerie, mysterious side. In the next scene, everyone gets on the boat and as the oompa-loompas row the boat faster, Dahl’s Wonka recites his eerie poem, which scares the group. Yet Wilder, adds some additional beginning verse to the poem and sings in low-key the rest of the poem verbatim from the novel. Wilder also adds many unique and odd sayings that were not in the novel, but the dialogue is a replacement of dialogue so Wilder is not overly faithful to the novel, which

shows monotony and is not necessary to forward the scene. This is another aspect of producing a great adaptation to Dahl’s novel to capture the essence of the novel by staying true to the character related in the original source material by avoiding monotony.

As the group enter the invention room, and Wonka shows the inventions to the group, Wonka borrows a part of a quote from Einstein and says “Invention, my dear friends, is ninety-three percent perspiration, six percent electricity, four percent evaporation, and two percent butterscotch ripple.” This reinforces the invention room and Wonka’s character as the inventor in Einstein.  This is a close match to Dahl’s Wonka and improves   the character of Wonka.

Wilder also darkly and comically mocks Violet’s stupidity after she turns into a blueberry by comparing her heart or brain to bread and the blueberry violet to a “roll” as he takes a line from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice “Where is fancy bred? In the heart, or in the head? Shall we roll on? “

The next scenes to come were better done by Tim Burton to forward the plot to capture the essence of the novel by staying true to the plot. The bubbly soda pop wasn’t included in Burton’s movie and Stuart involves Charlie in an adventure with Grandpa Joe with the burping cola to add some necessary tension and a climax in the end that wasn’t in the novel. It was the best adaptation for the end of the film that will be discussed later.

Burton wisely and successfully adaptated the nut room sequence successfully to further the plot. Dahl’s Wonka says “ these squirrels are specially trained to get the nuts out of walnuts” (Dahl, 110) and Burton had the squirrels pin down Veruca when she tried to take one as in the novel. The character of Veruca is better adapted from the source material in Stuart’s version, where she is whiny and kicks, screams, cries to get what she wants and is more childish than in Burton’s movie.

In Burton and Stuarts versions, the Wonka-Vision room is similar to the original source material in plot. Mike Teavee loves his TV and impatiently has to have anything to do with happen to him. He gets shrunk and gets sent over the airwaves as what he calls “ The first person to ever be sent by television.” (Dahl, 133) The characters of Mike Teavee in the both versions vary significantly from the original source in Dahl. Stuart’s version stays closer to the character of Mike Teavee from the source material to stay true to the original character. In Burton film, Mike Teavee is flawed from the original source explained earlier. However, a convincing backstory is given to him to enforce his character of being a hacker of the system as Depp’s Wonka put it.  Burton’s version explained why Mike would have an obsession like every other kid and get into mischief that would be his demise. His demise is obviously being transported by Wonka-Vision, but beyond his obsession with TV, his “hacker-like” persona to test new things no matter what, is explained through Burton that combines another character from the original source being one that cracked the system, Professor Foulbody, “who invented a machine which could tell you at once, without opening the wrapper of the candy bar, whether or not, there was a Golden Ticket behind it.” (Dahl, 23) This was a successful adaptation choice to explain Mike’s character by Burton.  Burton quotes Mike that he  “hates chocolate” and it is implied he just wants to go to the chocolate factory to test his skills. Burton adapts well the demise of Mike and elaborates on his plot. This brings out the “essence” of Mike by being true to the essential plot of Dahl’s book, which involves four very bad kids and one good kid, Charlie.

After the last bad kid gets there punishment for being mischievous and callous, the ending of the novel must be adaptated to the film in the best way to ensure that the essence of the novel by staying true to the plot and characters related in the original source material and provides a cathartic ending.

Krevolin says, “ your theme is determined by the way you end a story and climax and conclusion dictate the overriding thematic statement.” (Krevolin, 19) “What are you trying to say by ending the story this way?” (Krevolin, 19)

To summarize Krevolin, tying all characters into a dramatic ending must end the main plot. This has to be done to fully adapt the original source material in its entirety.

The theme is of movie is about family. Wonka is getting old and needs a new child to run his factory. This adds to Wonka’s family. Charlie, in the same way is very connected to his family. To remain true to the novel in its entirety and for a  successful adaptation to take place, a climax has to dictate the overriding thematic statement. The novel has no climax and Charlie just wins the chocolate factory.  Both movies did an exceptional job of adapting the ending to provide much needed catharsis. Stuart did a better job of creating a climax, because he centered the ending on Charlie, which the novel did. Stuart had Charlie and Grandpa Joe steal the fizzy lifting drinks to ensure the cathartic ending that was set in place by Stuart. Stuart did this to test Charlie one more time and Willy Wonka says in the movie “ You stole the fizzy lifting drinks” “You lose, Good day sir”. The character of Slugworth, which wasn’t actually a character in the Wonka novel and was only mentioned breifly, was brought out as a test to ensure the children’s honesty and Charlie passed by giving the everlasting gobstopper back to Wonka. Charlie then won Wonka’s trust and the catharsis starts with a beautifully adaptated ending to the novel.

The theme of Burton movie also expresses the importance of family theme that Dahl had ended the novel on.  When Charlie wins, the only catch is that Charlie must abandon his family in order to accept the arrangement. As his family is the most important thing in his life, Charlie refuses the offer and then the focus shifts to a created version of Wonka’s dad, which doesn’t follow the novel through on it’s adaptation to the original source. Now the ending that was supposed to be about Charlie is about Wonka, until Wonka with Charlie’s help resolves the conflict with his father and then Charlie gets the factory. The attempt of Burton is to capture the essence of the novel by staying true to the plot and characters related in the original source material is weaker than that of Stuarts because the ending is supposed to be about Charlie and not Wonka,. Nonetheless, Burton’s attempt does capture the main theme of Dahl’s work which is closeness to family.

In concluding this thesis paper on Willy Wonka, both adapters did successfully and unsuccessfully capture the essence of the novel by staying true to the plot and characters related in the original source material. Burton, already had the movie in front of him and could examine the mistakes of that of Stuarts 1972 movie and take it’s strengths in adaptation to the original source material. Unfortunatly, it seems Burton did not, because hardly anything is similar between the two in stylistic choices. Burton’s unwillingness or laziness to study Stuarts movie and capitalize on the strengths was a huge mistake which makes the adaptation unsuccessful for many reasons and strong in very few. For Stuart, his interpretation of Dahl’s book is grand, and many wonder why Dahl did not care for it as much. Stuart’s adaptation did capture the essence of the novel by staying true to the plot and characters related in the original source material more than not and Burton had very little success in this thesis.

Works Cited

Krevolin, Richard. How to Adapt Anything into a Screenplay. New Jersey, John Wiley and Sons, 2003

Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. New York, Puffin Books, 1998

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