Taika Waititi is one of the most creative, talented directors currently working in Hollywood, and Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of the most beloved children's books of all time.
So naturally, Taika Waititi helming two animated Charlie and the Chocolate Factory series for Netflix should be a match made in heaven, right? Well, maybe we should slow down a bit first.
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On one hand, Taika Waititi has proven himself as a genuine auteur, capable of stamping his signature shade of irreverence on everything from original indie comedies like Hunt for the Wilderpeople to blockbuster Marvel films like Thor: Ragnorok to book adaptations like JoJo Rabbit. But here's the problem: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory already has a definitive adaptation––Tim Burton's 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starring Johnny Depp.
There's no doubt that whatever Waititi chooses to do with the franchise will be fun, imaginative, and patently him. The issue is that, no matter how good it is, it can never live up to the best possible version of the story, which features traditionally handsome actor Johnny Depp wearing very white makeup and pretending to be a germaphobe. Undoubtedly, no actor could possibly step into Willy Wonka's shoes with the same gravitas as Depp. (In fact, Hollywood rumor has it that some former actor who played Willy Wonka in an older adaptation quit the industry after seeing Depp's performance and realizing that his own paled in comparison).
Perhaps best known for turning Dahl's book into a fantastical musical, Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory features a slew of memorable songs that have stuck with viewers for an entire generation. As each of the rotten children fall victim to their own character flaws during the tour of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, the Oompa-Loompa songs serve as eulogies, instilling viewers with morality lessons that they can carry with them through their life journey.
If you watched that video closely, you might notice one of the boldest directorial choices that Burton made for his film: All of the Oompa-Loompas are played by the same person! Through the use of flawless digital effects and split screen photography, Burton was able to capture actor Deep Roy performing the roles of dozens of little orange men. And while Roy may not have won the Oscar he deserved for such a diverse array of character work, at least he gets bragging rights for being in the greatest Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie ever made.
Unfortunately for Taika Waititi and Netflix, no amount of talent can surmount the sheer impossibility of conquering an everlasting classic. The truth that Hollywood still fails to realize is that sometimes there's an artwork so stupendous, so memorable, and so definitive that it really doesn't need to ever be rebooted. Even if Waititi creates an adaptation that feels surprising and original, people will still say, "Yeah, that's okay, but is it as good as the 2005 Tim Burton version?" Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had it all––the songs, the sense of wonder, Johnny Deep feigning mental issues. Waititi is welcome to reach for the stars, but he might just miss and find himself falling into a chocolate river.