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Johnny Depp & Gene Wilder in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory

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Johnny Depp and Gene Wilder both played Willy Wonka in film adaptations of the Rahl Dahl book Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. Each went above and beyond to truly encompass Wonka, and bring him to life in different but equally unforgettable ways. Wilder gives his audience a Wonka who is a master of his trade, a man whom is quite aware of his strength and maturity as a candy maker. Wilder’s humor is found in the irony of the real world, and mocking those who take themselves too seriously, or are unable to embrace their ridiculousness. Depp on the other hand approaches Wonka in a contrasting way, and makes him much younger, and less sure of himself than Wilder. One can see Depp’s Wonka struggle with his past, and try to remain a child by choosing to be a candy maker. Unlike Wilder’s Wonka, one often finds themselves laughing at Depp rather than with him. These subtle changes in demeanor and humor made by the two actors crucially change the films and the way in which the audience receive Willy Wonka and the journey through his factory.

From the moment one sees Wilder, it is clear that he knows exactly what he is doing, and confident in himself and his abilities. Wilder makes his audiences see candy making as a highly skilled craft because he is so proud of his work at the factory. For example, when everyone comes into the chocolate room, Wilder is content to let everyone look on in awe, but he does not ask for, or need an outsider’s approval or compliments. He begins to sing on his own, and enter his own world, one where he relishes in his greatness, regardless of what his onlookers might say. His inner strength, and humble outward appearance makes Wilder a wonderful Wonka for children and adult viewers to trust and move with throughout the film.

Furthermore, Wilder’s audience is illuminated by his insightful and very real humor. Wilder allows for the humor of the film to be found in the absurdity others, and their inability to simply lighten up and enjoy themselves. The audience, by looking through Wonka’s eyes at the characters in the film, discovers humor in real things they had never noticed before. For example, when Veruca’s father begins to overreact over Veruca signing the large contract, Wilder brings Mr. Salt’s over the top ridiculousness to the attention of the audience by interacting with him a slightly condescending way. Someone watching the film might not have noticed just how silly Mr. Salt was acting, but by looking through the shrew eyes of Wonka one can see the insanity and over the top behavior coursing through our reality. By allowing the audience to discover new things through his performance, Wilder makes the viewers a part of his adaptation and story.

Depp’s Wonka is very different from Wilder’s, as Depp seems to tap into the childlike nature of Wonka in everything he does and says. Depp’s Wonka does not come across as being particularly confident or sure of himself and his trade. From the first time we see him, Depp behaves like an absent-minded child, someone who makes candy to escape the reality of adulthood, unlike Wilder, who seems to embrace the maturity of his candy making. For example, when Depp is welcoming everyone to the factory, he has a carnival style doll show set-up for the onlookers. The show resembles something from Disney world, and at the end Wonka is supposed to appear among the dolls. Depp does not appear however, but is standing with the audience watching and clapping at his own show. One can see right away that this man is easily amused,



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