Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Chocolate Rivers and Magical Places

When I was a child I believed that some places were inherently more magical than others.

I grew up in Southern California which, while beautiful, is not magical. It was a great place to live and a suitable setting for novels about popularity, cliques, and outsiders.

We traveled a lot when I was little and my parents' favorite destination was the U.K. We even lived in Scotland for a year.

English forests are magical. You can almost see the dwarves, gnomes, and other woodland creatures in the dappled light. We did see them as children. Scottish highlands, islands, and lochs are wild and deeply romantic. Historical fiction, of course, thrives in the Scottish north.

All this being said, though, I still think magic can be found anywhere, if you look hard enough. That's why I am so apprehensive about the new "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." A few months back, Tim Burton was interviewed on Fresh Air and said that he was disappointed by the original movie because the special effects were so poor. He specifically noted that the chocolate river was not believable at all.

This evening, while watching American Idol (why?), there was an ad for this new version of one of children's lit's true classics. The chocolate river looks great, but the movie looks awful. Stilted, artificial, and awful. I'll reserve judgment, of course, until I see this new version, but it made me think about what was so magical about the book and the Gene Wilder movie in the first place?

First and foremost it was Charlie's willingness to believe in good and in his future despite all evidence to the contrary. Charlie's grandfather, who had lived an ordinary life of poverty and hard work, believed right alongside his grandson in his grandson's future. It was Dahl's insistence that good children will triumph over spoiled, wealthy, and, yes, American children. It was Willy Wonka's brilliance and ability to see the truth, even as an adult.

All of this is far more important than any chocolate river.