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Fans wonder what `Wonka' update will bring.

Byline: Lewis Taylor The Register-Guard

In the 1971 film "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory," Gene Wilder brought a sarcastic element to the character of Wonka. But Johnny Depp's interpretation of the character in "Charlie & the Chocolate Factory" looks more like Michael Jackson.

That's one bit of early buzz among the hard core Wonka fans who have been carefully keeping an eye on this film long before it started shooting in 2004. Director Tim Burton has dismissed the comparison by explaining that while Jackson likes kids, Wonka does not.

Whatever the inspiration, the film, which is based on the classic 1964 Roald Dahl children's book, is already looking to be more successful than the original.

The 1971 film flopped when it opened and only later became a cult favorite, says Randi Schmelzer, a Los Angeles-based reporter for Adweek Magazine who did a dissertation on the subject of `Charlie & the Chocolate Factory' while a student at the Evergreen State College in Olympia.

"I expect it to be much closer to what Roald Dahl would have liked," Schmelzer said. "He hated the original. He thought it was awful. This new one is much closer. It even has the blessing of Felicity Dahl, his widow."

Wonka lovers such as Schmelzer started off being wary of the new film version, which is not technically a remake. Originally, names such as Jim Carrey, Will Smith and even Marilyn Manson were being suggested for the part of Wonka, but Depp won out.

No matter how the new film is perceived, it's doubtful it will take much away from the earlier screen version, which had snozzberries that tasted like snozzberries and golden tickets and chocolate tunnels - so many new words and phrases that are now part of the pop culture lexicon that it's hard to keep track of them all.

"How many times do we sing the Oompa-Loompa song?" wondered Tammy Deppert, a manager at Flicks and Pics in Eugene. "Oompa-Loompa doompadee doo."

The first "Wonka" is played often in the South Eugene store, and Deppert has stocked up on extra copies in anticipation of the new movie's release.

Sarah Mendonca, another Flicks and Pics employee, says the nostalgia factor with the 1971 film is huge.

"I grew up watching it. ... I have kind of a special place in my heart (for it)," she said. "It was part of my childhood. It will be fun and interesting to see what Tim Burton is going to do with it."

The new film has some notable differences from the original. The Oompa-Loompas are all played by one actor, and instead of golden geese laying eggs, there are squirrels shelling nuts. And, Burton decided Wonka's troubled childhood warranted a subplot.

Also, Depp does no singing in the new version, something that should make local film buff Jym Wyant happy.

"I wasn't a big fan of the first movie," Wyant said. "I found the songs very irritating."

But at the heart of it all, the Willy Wonka story remains the same. Charlie, the polite, good-hearted boy from a working class family who wins a ticket to tour the candy factory that nobody has seen in 15 years. He encounters greed and gluttony and all sorts of brattiness and, in the end, is awarded the factory by virtue of his integrity.

"What is better than candy in the imagination of a child, or a grown up for that matter," said James "Izzy" Whetstine, who played the character of Wonka in a 2003 Rose Children's Theatre production of the story.

"Every kid loves candy. Wouldn't you like to win the factory?"

Michelle Schimmer, who directed Whetstine in the production, said she looked for a certain degree of toughness in casting Wonka, the central character in the play.

"I looked for somebody who was fun but not scary, was kind, but was a leader and didn't take any nonsense from kids.

"Wonka," she explained, "is larger than life."

Lewis Taylor can be reached at 338-2512 or ltaylor@guardnet .com.

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Gene Wilder in `Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.'
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Title Annotation:Entertainment; Despite concern's about Depp's interpretation, fans can't wait to unwrap the update of `Willy Wonka'
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 15, 2005
Words:675
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