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CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY

Bringing Roald Dahl's Classic Story to Screen
In bringing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to life on screen, producers Brad Grey and Richard Zanuck had some small idea of what they were getting themselves into. "This was bigger than anything I've been involved with in my entire career, not only as a producer but as a studio head. It's bigger in scope, size and imagination,” says Zanuck, an Oscar winner for Driving Miss Daisy and 1991 recipient of the Academy's Thalberg Award.

"Here was a book with the potential, just visually, to be absolutely spectacular on film and we were excited with the idea of being able to produce it on a scale that Roald would have appreciated, without compromising any of the heart he put into it,” says Grey, currently Chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures Motion Picture Group and a four time recipient of the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award, as well as an Emmy and Golden Globe winner for The Sopranos and a 17-time Emmy nominee during his career as an independent producer. "We took our time to get the script right and assemble a team that felt the same way we did about it.”

The filmmakers also sought the support and collaboration of Felicity Dahl, Roald's wife and the caretaker of his estate since his death in 1990. Says Grey, "Without her blessing, we wouldn't have a movie.” 

Dahl, an executive producer on the film, acknowledges the scale of the undertaking. "An adaptation like this is daunting because I don't think there's a child in this world who hasn't read the story or knows about it. Every child wants to be Charlie.” Delighted at how the creative team came together and how Roald's original images were interpreted on a grand scale, she calls it, "the ideal combination: Roald Dahl, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, absolutely unbeatable and completely in sync.”

Published in 1964, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory recently celebrated its 40th anniversary in print. As beloved by children and adults today as it has been throughout the past four decades, the book has sold over 13 million copies worldwide and been translated into 32 languages. Its enduring popularity indicates how well the author understood, appreciated and communicated to children. As Grey observes, "He never talked down to his readers or underestimated their intelligence.”

Johnny Depp, who stars as Willy Wonka, especially appreciates, "the unexpected twists in Dahl's writing. You think it's going in one direction and then it slams you with another alternative, another route, and makes you think. At its center, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a great morality tale. But there's also a lot of magic and fun.”

Although hugely popular with children, the consensus of the book's adult fans is that, most definitely, "it's more than a children's book,” says Zanuck. "It's a wild ride, certainly, a fun-house candy fantasyland, but it has deeper emotional implications. The character of Wonka, who he is and who he becomes at the end of the story through his connection with young Charlie, is very moving. It's a fantasy that touches everyone.” 

When it came time to select a director, Tim Burton was ideal choice. "When you look at his body of work, there's a running theme of intelligence and whimsy that's perfectly suited for a story like this,” says Grey. "Like Dahl, he never underestimates the sophistication of his audience. In our first conversations it was clear that Tim was a fan and wanted to be as faithful to the book as possible, which was right in sync with how we felt.” "One of the interesting aspects of the book is that it's so vivid in mood and feeling and so specific, yet it still leaves room for interpretation,” Burton believes. "It leaves room for your own imagination, which, I think, is one of Dahl's strengths as a storyteller.

"Some adults forget what it was like to be a kid. Roald didn't,” Burton continues. "So you have characters that remind y

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