Let’s all reflect on the moment Gene Wilder slammed Tim Burton’s ‘Willy Wonka’

08.30.16 10 months ago

It's fairly common knowledge that Roald Dahl despised Mel Stuart's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the 1971 film adaptation of his classic children's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Not only was he averse to Wilder's performance as eccentric candy-peddler Willy Wonka (the author wanted Spike Milligan for the role), he was irritated that it placed more emphasis on Wonka at the expense of the book's good-hearted hero Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum). (For the record, Dahl allegedly hated most adaptations of his books, at one point terming Nicolas Roeg's big-screen interpretation of The Witches “utterly appalling.”)

So perhaps it's fitting that Tim Burton, who directed the 2005 re-adaptation of Dahl's novel, similarly found the 1971 version lacking, telling BBC News in an interview: “I don't want to crush people's childhood dreams, but the original film is sappy.” But while Burton's film proved very successful both critically and commercially — it grossed over $470 million worldwide — it's been largely overshadowed in the public imagination by Stuart's adaptation, which 45 years later remains the definitive screen version of the tale thanks in large part to Wilder's spirited, occasionally unhinged performance.

Speaking of Wilder, who died Monday at the age of 83, the iconic actor had nothing at all nice to say about Burton's film when asked about it during his final interview in 2013, telling host Robert Osborne: “I think it”s an insult…Johnny Depp, I think, is a good actor, but I don”t care for that director. He”s a talented man, but I don”t care for him doing stuff like he did.” (Quotes courtesy of Variety)

It's a withering assessment, and one that seemingly mirrors Dahl's opinion of Wilder's version. That said, it's unclear whether Wilder ever actually watched the film, given that he told interviewer Ernie Manouse several years earlier that he decided against seeing it because he didn't “want to be disappointed” by Depp, whom he claimed to “like…very much” as an actor. Indeed, Wilder seemed primed to dislike the film from the get-go, as even prior to its release he slammed it as, essentially, a cash grab.

You can check out the relevant soundbite at around 19:35 in the video, but if you have time I encourage you to view more of the interview, in which Wilder discusses his collaborations with Mel Brooks, the difficult nature of working with his frequent co-star Richard Pryor (“When he was good, he was wonderful. When he was bad, he was awful.”), his admiration of Dame Judi Dench and why he wasn't a fan of modern filmmaking (“So much swearing going on”).

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