Bringing the world of Roald Dahl’s 1964 classic, whimsical novel to life, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” fell into the hands of director Tim Burton after an extensive search by Warner Bros. Production. Creating Roald Dahl’s world, famously known for his macabre and dark comic fantasy, was challenging. Tim Burton, a Dahl fan known for his grim gothic Burtonesque style, was adamant about staying as true to the author’s work as possible while retaining its darker elements.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, released in 2005, had previously been adapted into a 1971 musical by Gene Wilder, which the author Roald Dahl despised, resulting in the Dahl Estate having complete artistic control. Moreover, thus, was born Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with its perfect blend of Burton’s gothic vision and Roald Dahl’s outlandish fantasy.

An architectural review of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory - Sheet1
Charlie and the chocolate Factory Poster_©https://wallpaperaccess.com/charlie-and-the-chocolate-factory

The Plot

The plot revolves around five children, one of whom is Charlie Bucket, a poor sentimental boy with family values who is superbly portrayed by Freddie Highmore. The four stereotypically spoiled kids, accompanied by Charlie Bucket, gain access to the mysterious and famous Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory via golden tickets hidden in five chocolate bars distributed worldwide.

The chocolate factory owned by a dysfunctional man-child with childhood trauma, Willy Wonka, has been played by one of the finest actors in world cinema, Johnny Depp. The successful collaboration of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp over the other movies paved the way for bringing Dahl’s chocolatier, Willy Wonka, to life.

Willy Wonka opens his chocolate factory to the lucky five visitors, providing them with a lifetime supply of chocolates. The factory is a maze of magical rooms and machines operated by little workers called Oompa-Loompas, who worship Cocoa. The story unravels with each kid giving in to their greed, selfishness, and temptations, meeting a dark humour-based tragic end. All four children get eliminated with the musical about morality by Oompa Loompas, played by a single actor, Deep Roy. With Willy Wonka’s childhood flashbacks and the unrealistic fantasy world inside the factory, Charlie Bucket becomes the winner of the five, who further not only helps Willy Wonka with his factory but also gives him something he always wanted: a family.

The Architecture: Burtonesque with Dahlian fiction

“Candy doesn’t have to have a point. That’s why it’s candy.”

Tim Burton’s visual aesthetic has been a distinctive element that resonates with viewers for its quirky, off-kilter gaudiness. His visual design produces a feeling of lucid unreality and psychological tension for the audience. The same has been replicated in Dahl’s confectionary kingdom, leading to one of the best set designs of all time. Burton believed in using as few digital effects as possible to have authenticity by creating a 360-degree enclosed set. It was a challenge to bring the best of both worlds into reality, which production designer Alex McDowell handled with utmost precision and attention to detail. The set design took place in a backlot of Pinewood Studios in 2004 to justify the aesthetic requirement of Tim Burton’s grim, wet, and depressing exterior, which transitioned believably into a magical kingdom inside.

Much like in the book, the entire cityscape had to be in a timeless setting and not belong to a specific country. So, the city fabric was inspired by Bill Brandt’s black-and-white urban photography and Pittsburgh and Northern England. The movie is shot in a snowy setting with black, grey, and dull buildings arranged like those in a medieval village, with Wonka’s estate on top and Charlie Bucket’s family shack below. To continue with the theme of ambiguity, the cars were made to drive in the middle of the roads. The entire visual appearance has a retro Day-Glo 1960s vibe to it.

An architectural review of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory - Sheet
Town from the Bucket’s hut with Chocolate Factory view_©https://www.kissthemgoodbye.net/movie/displayimage.php?album=956&pid=2302216

The movie opens up with Charlie Bucket running to his shackle, which directly inspired Roald Dahl’s writing hut. The weathered ramshackle hut with the concave roof is the only hut in town with broken walls and ceilings and leaning without any straight lines. The hut looks like an overstretched, skewed sketch of a child, giving it a deranged yet inviting feel. Burton establishes an early mood of cosy poverty in the interiors of the packed house with the Bucket family. The other kids’ houses are set up mainly in an American suburban atmosphere with beige, pink, and grey colour palettes. The interiors reflect the children’s personalities, thereby introducing the audience to the kind of lifestyle they all have had.

An architectural review of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory - Sheet3
Charlie Bucket’s house_©https://wonka.fandom.com/wiki/The_Bucket%27s_House

The Chocolate Factory is the most important location in the entire film. The cold and uninviting exterior of German Expressionism has been contrasted with bright and lurid interiors with lucid fantasy, as seen in most Tim Burton films. The same has been done with the factory having a Fascist architecture as the inspiration for its exterior to show optimism and strength and to make it look slightly foreboding and dark. The interiors are tall and grey, giving them a luxurious, plain enclosure with different rooms used for different purposes.

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Willy Wonka with his Chocolate Factory_©https://www.wallpaperflare.com/adventure-charlie-charlie-chocolate-factory-comedy-depp-wallpaper-swzea

The first room of the factory tour takes the children and their guardians to the most bizarre of locations: the chocolate room. The room is designed with a chocolate waterfall, and its river is its main feature. The room looks like a fantasy page torn out of Tim Burton’s sketches, with trees and twigs jerking out at odd angles and bright, lurid colours. The room where everything is edible can be visually tasted with glazed chocolate apples, jams, and pumpkin pastries. The chocolate waterfall was made from a faux, non-toxic, edible chocolate substitute, which took more than three months to create. The idea of the chocolate fall that Tim Burton and Alex McDowell had was to make it look as chocolatey as possible by giving it the right weight and texture. Different shades of faux chocolate were concocted, with Burton choosing the final colour and consistency. The river was 270 feet long, six feet deep, and consisted of 192,000 gallons of faux chocolate, while 30,000 gallons of the same material made up the waterfall.

The boat used to row on the chocolate river had to look like a piece of carved-out big candy. It took 20 weeks to build, and 54 animatronic Oompa Loompas had to be placed. 

An architectural review of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory - Sheet6
Chocolate river and boat_©https://wallpaperaccess.com/charlie-and-the-chocolate-factory

The second room, the “inventing room,” is set with an undertone of darkness and mystery, with fascinating huge machines whizzing and popping. Scraps from the aeronautical industry, defunct confectionery machinery, and old car parts were used in building this room.

The room introduced after is the Nut room, as the name suggests, where the nuts are separated from their shells. The story has thousands of trained squirrels doing this job, which was directly adapted. In Tim Burton’s film, trained squirrels and other animatronic squirrels played the part with very less CGI. The room’s design gives the impression of a sterile environment with a large circular enclosure. The stark white room resembling the hospital has light blue tones, giving it a cold and unfriendly character.

The final room of the tour takes the children to the TV Room, whose design is inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey and THX 1138. A simple dome structure completely painted in stark white has an 80s retro science film theme.

An architectural review of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory - Sheet7
TV room_©https://wallpaperaccess.com/charlie-and-the-chocolate-factory

The other important factor in the movie is the magic elevator, which can travel in any direction inside the factory and is a personal vehicle for Willy Wonka that can take him anywhere. The elevator takes them into the factory to the most fascinating, unexplained places that have been Tim Burton’s brand of insanity or as mentioned in the book. Places like the fudge mountain, which is a massive mountain, and the room where pink sheep’s wool is sheared, most likely for cotton candy, add a nice touch to cater to the children’s imaginations while also making the viewer smile.

When portraying family, one notable feature is how the entire house, from its foundation, is relocated to a different setting. For example, when young Willy Wonka runs away from home only to get back, he sees that the entire building connected to neighbouring homes has been torn from the ground and relocated to a different place by his father. The same happens with Charlie Bucket’s house, where people continue to live in the same shaggy small hut, even inside the massive factory that has been wholly relocated from the outskirts of the town to the inside of the chocolate room. This presumably emphasises the significance of “where family is, there is home.”

The Conclusion

One of the most splendid examples of grim gothic and pop art gaudiness is the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which is not only a visual treat but also makes the viewer feel the spaces psychologically. This film paves the way for understanding the wildly imaginative, macabre elegance of Roald Dahl and Tim Burton’s worlds, leaving viewers with a sugar rush that lasts for days.

Charlie and the chocolate Factory Poster_©https://www.wallpaperflare.com/search?wallpaper=charlie-chocolate-factory

References:

  1. Benjamin BergeryUnit photography by Peter MountainPhotos courtesy of Warner Bros. Lighting diagrams courtesy of Light by Numbers (no date) American cinematographer: Charlie and the chocolate factory. Available at: https://theasc.com/magazine/july05/charlie/.html (Accessed: November 10, 2022). 
  2. Unknown (no date) Charlie and the chocolate factory – production design, Philips Journal. Available at: http://philipjosse.blogspot.com/2014/04/charlie-and-chocolate-factory.html (Accessed: November 10, 2022). 
  3. ‘Charlie and the chocolate factory’: Burton Eye Candy (no date) Animation World Network. Available at: https://www.awn.com/vfxworld/charlie-and-chocolate-factory-burton-eye-candy (Accessed: November 10, 2022). 
  4. Charlie and the chocolate factory (film) (2022) Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_and_the_Chocolate_Factory_(film) (Accessed: November 10, 2022). 
  5. Charlie and the chocolate factory film analysis (no date) Bartleby. Available at: https://www.bartleby.com/essay/Charlie-And-The-Chocolate-Factory-Film-Analysis-F3DMG3BYAEPP (Accessed: November 10, 2022). 
  6. July 2005: Blackfilm.com: Features: Interview: An Interview with director Tim Burton (no date) July 2005 | blackfilm.com | features | interview | An Interview with Director Tim Burton. Available at: http://www.blackfilm.com/20050708/features/timburton.shtml (Accessed: November 10, 2022). 
  7. Chris Nashawaty Updated July 01, 2005, at 04:00 A.M.E.D.T. (no date) How Johnny Depp brought a new flavor to ”charlie”, EW.com. Available at: https://ew.com/article/2005/07/01/how-johnny-depp-brought-new-flavor-charlie/ (Accessed: November 10, 2022). 
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A paradoxical human with a passion for the architectural language where she believes in buildings narrating the stories that mankind cannot.

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