Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Gene Wilder
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Credit: Warner Bros.

Willy Wonka reboot: When business sense and common sense butt heads

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Feb 19, 2018, 6:33 PM EST (Updated)

There is a definition of insanity rolling around, commonly attributed to Albert Einstein — who was probably too busy inventing science to have actually dropped this nugget — that describes the condition as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." Clichéd, yes, but when you're talking about Hollywood, it's rather fitting.

Because Hollywood, especially today's remake-reboot-preboot-prequel-sequel-spinoff obsessed Hollywood, is all about doing the same thing over and over again. And, of course, it tends to work, or they wouldn't do it. Right? The titans of this particular industry wouldn't keep making the same mistake… would they?

I'd like to say no, but then one hears that Warner Bros. wants to make another Willy Wonka movie.


Because I have a functioning heart, it's clear to me that, while the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory isn't a perfect movie — didn't really need that "grown-ass man tempting a child with all this candy" song at the top — there is a real magic to it. And it's a dark magic, too, partially thanks to the glee with which director Mel Stuart dispatches all those horrible children, and in great part because Gene Wilder is giving us Wonka as Loki. He's a god of chocolate mischief in a world of his own creation.

Willy Wonka, Gene Wilder

Credit: Warner Bros.

For more than 30 years, we all knew that it was an untouchable piece of childhood canon. Until Tim Burton decided to touch it.

(Okay, to be fair to Burton, Warners had been trying to re-adapt Roald Dahl's novel since the early '90s, eyeing actors like Will Smith, Bill Murray, Nicolas Cage, and Michael Keaton at various times to play Wonka.)

And, yeah, it made a certain amount of sense. Burton was a World Builder par excellence and Warners did pretty well with Burton and Batman. Johnny Depp was one of the biggest movie stars in the world. And Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a beloved known quantity. If you happen to be a movie studio with hundreds of millions of dollars to play with… why wouldn't you take that bet?

Warners did and got $475 million worldwide for their troubles. A decent return on their investment, to be sure. But no one can really say they love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Not on Rotten Tomatoes, anyway, where the audience score is at 51%. (The original is at 86%, for comparison.) You'd have to search far and wide to find the person for which Charlie is their favorite movie.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Credit: Warner Bros.

But that was an experiment worth trying, I guess: Can you catch lightning in a bottle twice, especially if you get the best kite and the best flier? It would seem that the answer to that question, at least in regards to Chocolate Factories, is no.

So why are Warners stepping up to the Wonka plate again? A few days ago, The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that Paul King, director of the apparently wonderful Paddington 2, is in negotiations to "reimagine" Dahl's novel for Willy Wonka.

When will people leave well enough alone? When will one unabashed classic be allowed to just exist, unmonkeyed with?

Perhaps when it's less risky for a film executive to say yes to an established piece of intellectual property than it is to say yes to something new. Perhaps when, at the highest movie studio levels, the marketing departments have the ultimate sway because they think it's easier to sell "Based on the Beloved Children's Classic" than it is to sell "A Totally Original Idea."


Which may be true. At some point, though, I hope there's enough evidence to dissuade companies from remaking things that don't need to be remade simply because it won't get you scoffed at in a meeting.