In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, why is Charlie so passive in the movie?
As the main character I would think he would do something during the big adventure in the factory but he does nothing. He faces no challenges. He is not tested in any way. He doesn’t even have the opportunity to make a single mistake.
He is simply the blandest and most uninteresting character in the entire group. He doesn’t even merit a song. I just don’t get it.
Congratulations, Gilbert. You are now a studio executive.
The one consistent note Tim and I got from Warner Bros. about the script was, “Shouldn’t Charlie be trying harder?” To which we answered, “No.” And because Tim Burton is Tim Burton, they eventually stopped asking.
The world is full of movies where scrappy young heroes succeed by trying really hard, by being clever and saying witty things. But that’s not Roald Dahl’s Charlie Bucket at all. We didn’t want a classic Disney protagonist, so we left Charlie the way he was: a good kid.
Here’s what I wrote a few weeks ago about this issue:
However, Charlie is not a classic Protagonist. Charlie doesn’t grow or change over the course of the story. He doesn’t need to. He starts out a really nice kid, and ends up a really nice kid.
In terms of Classical Dramatic Structure, that leaves us one Protagonist short, which leads to the biggest change in the screenplay versus the book (or the 1971 film). In our movie, Willy Wonka is the protagonist. He grows and changes. We see his rise and fall, along with his nervous breakdown during the tour. Charlie’s the one who’s always asking – ever so politely, in the Freddie Highmore Whisperâ„¢ – the questions that lead to Wonka’s flashbacks upon his rotten childhood. (In Classic Dramatic terms, that makes Charlie an Antagonist. Not to be confused with a Villain. Are you sure you don’t want to read about some squirrels?)
As I pitched it to Tim: Charlie gets a factory, and Willy Wonka gets a family. It’s the whole want-versus-need thing. Charlie doesn’t need a factory. Wonka really needs a family. Otherwise, he’s going to die a giggling misanthropic weirdo.
Charlie “wins” because he’s genuinely good, in a quiet, unassuming way. He doesn’t get a song because the Oompa-Loompas only sing about rotten children.
I’m sorry that doesn’t float your boat, Gilbert, but I think the real issue may be how much you’re preconditioned by all the movies you’ve seen with plucky kids who outthink the adults. If you hurry, you can probably catch one at the multiplex.