Two of my favorite books are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl which is the story of a young boy who dreams of getting a golden ticket that will allow him to visit the fantasy world of the candy maker Willy Wonka, and The Borrowers by Mary Norton who created a magical world of little people who borrow from humans. Both books have been translated to movies with results that have not always brought to life the true spirit of the texts.
The first incarnation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the 1971 film, Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring the comic genius, Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. The film is fairly close to the text and its faithfulness is comforting for readers of Roald Dahl’s classic. The songs in the movie support this authenticity with standout numbers such as the “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” as well as the sentimental “Cheer Up Charlie” that are both memorable in their joy and depth of emotional compassion. This movie gets to the heart of what Dahl wrote with light-handed but still focused morality about what constitutes right conduct in the world. The second movie entitled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and directed by Tim Burton has little resemblance to the book because it sacrifices plot and character for the outré and bizarre. There are no memorable moments where the viewer can connect emotionally to the actors and, despite Johnny Depp being the lead, the cast is forgettable because the children (including Charlie) are cardboard targets for strange experiments instead of characters that inspire empathy.
The Borrowers, a 1997 film starring John Goodman, is similarly reliant on cheap effects to tell a story that diverges from the original text. The film is violent and the Borrowers engage in crude sight gags that would make the book characters cringe with horror. A more accurate portrait is the gentle The Secret World of Arrietty directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi , with script by the respected Studio Ghibli founder, Hayao Miyazaki. The script is close to the text and, unlike the 1997 film, is true to the characters of the hard-working Pod, the anxious Homily and the adventurous Arrietty. This veracity comes also from the precise and magical detail in the nature-based environment of the animation that is missing in the scruffy live-action film. The Secret World of Arrietty and Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory are truehearted gems that deserve to be treasured for generations.