Jacko and the “Chocolate Factory”
The longish black hair. The pale skin. The ornate suit jacket. The–how should we say?–less than traditional adult male speaking voice.
That is fabled candymaker Willy Wonka as embodied by Johnny Depp in director Tim Burton’s new take on the children’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
One problem: “I think the casual viewer is going to see Michael Jackson.”
So says Patrick Lee, news editor of online’s Sci Fi Wire. And chances are the casual viewer wouldn’t disagree.
“It’s very scary,” laughs Houston-based blogger Laurence Simon.
Like other moviegoers, Simon made the Depp-Jackson-Wonka connection almost instantly when he saw the Chocolate Factory trailer. An offhanded remark last month on his blog, This Blog Is Full of Crap (IsFullofCrap.com), about how much he wasn’t looking forward to Burton’s film led one commentator to crack, “What’s the problem…? Don’t have the stomach for Michael Jackson and the Chocolate Factory?”
The properly titled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opens July 15. In a summer dominated by bad buzz about the less than blockbuster box office, it is one of Warner Bros.’ brightest hopes, along with Batman Begins and The Dukes of Hazzard.
Having one of its prized properties–much less, a PG-rated kids’ fantasy–linked to a fallen pop star with longish black hair, pale skin, a whisper for a speaking voice, a penchant for military garb and a recent acquittal on child-molestation charges is likely not what the Hollywood studio had in mind when it turned Burton and company loose on author Roald Dahl’s beloved, if preternaturally creepy, tale.
And, according to Depp, who openly copped to stealing riffs from rocker Keith Richards for his turn as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, it is absolutely not what the actor had in mind when he was conjuring the eccentric first brought to the big screen by Gene Wilder in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Children-show hosts like Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers, these are the innocuous sorts who inspired Depp’s Wonka, he has said.
“Everyone is entitled to think what they want,” Depp said last week in a news conference in Nassau, Bahamas, “even while being violently wrong.”
Wrong or no, the suspicions abound. At that press conference, Lee says the Jackson question came up “a lot.”
Lee, for one, is more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the filmmakers, perhaps because he’s seen the movie in its entirety. “The nature of the character Willy Wonka is not Michael Jackson,” he says. “Willy Wonka hates children–that there sets him apart from Michael Jackson.”
Box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian also has seen the film. Depp’s Wonka, he says, “comes off more as Mr. Rogers than Michael Jackson.”
If the trailer is creeping out audiences, says Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., then that might not be such a bad thing for the film’s box office. Dahl’s tale of gluttony, greed and Oompa Loompas, after all, has never been confused for a Disney fairy tale. As such, the trippier the trailer, the potentially more intrigued the audience.
“They have come to expect the unexpected with Johnny Depp,” says Dergarabedian. “Were it another actor, maybe it wouldn’t come off as well.”
The last time Depp arguably veered into Jackson territory, in Finding Neverland, the 2004 biopic about big-kid-at-heart Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, the actor earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
As long as Depp doesn’t earn sustained unwanted comparisons to Jackson in Chocolate Factory, the Oompa Loompas likely will go along their merry, vaguely unsettling way.
Jacko and the “Chocolate Factory”