I’m not very proud of the fact that my husband and I let our boys watch a lot of movies. They probably don’t spend more time in front of the TV than most kids, but they do watch a lot of movies. And while I think it would be good for us all to spend more time reading and less watching, I do think Jonathan and I do well to frame and ground what we allow our children to watch.
Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is our 3-year-old’s favorite movie. Yes it is PG. Yes, it is weird. Yes, it is scary in spots. But what a conversation starter! With him, I have talked about, being a nice boy like Charlie, colors, and, you know, not eating candy all day long. Ok, so it’s not deep conversation. At least not with the 3-year-old.
But with the 8-year-old, ahh! There we have some good stuff! Seriously. When was the last time you had the opportunity to talk with an 8-year-old boy about the Seven Deadly Sins? Yeah, really. The kid took notes! Unprompted!
Now, before I go on, about the theological examples in this movie, I would like to remind readers that the newer, Tim Burton Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the older Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory are different movies. Yes, both are based on the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Yes, both involve a kid named Charlie, a chocolatier named Willy Wonka, and short guys called Oompa Loompas. There is some debate about which movie is weirder. Some adults recall being “creeped out” by the green-haired 70’s Oompa Loompas (akin to the Wizard of Oz flying monkey aversion), while others love the “charming” score including such lyrics as “Who can take a sunrise/ Sprinkle it in dew/Cover it in chocolate /and a miracle or two?”
I’m not one to argue with nostalgia, but as someone who only saw bits of the original version prior to seeing both versions in their entirety for the first time within the past year — as an adult — I consider the Tim Burton version to be the better movie. I’m not just talking cinematically. I won’t hold 30 years of special effects development against the original version. No, I’m really talking about the screenplay, particularly the character development of Charlie and Willy Wonka. (The other characters remain essentially unchanged from the original movie.)
Just in case you’re coming into this blindly — as I would have been 6 months ago — here’s a primer of the characters you ought to know.
Bite-sized primer of Characters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Willy Wonka — The world’s greatest Chocolatier. When his workers started stealing his candy-making secrets, he closed his doors to the public, employing Oompa Loompas to make his candies instead. He’s a weird-chocolate-making hermit of sorts.
Charlie — A child of limited means, Charlie lives with all 4 grandparents, his mother, and — in the Tim Burton version — his father in a “house” that should have been condemned about a decade ago.
Grandpa Joe — Charlie’s grandfather. Grandpa Joe used to work for Willy Wonka. No, he was not one of those despicable spies who everyday tried to steal Mr. Wonka’s life’s work and sell it to those parasitic copy-cat candy-making cads.
Augustus Gloop — Winner of the First Golden Ticket, Augustus really likes candy. Chocolate in particular.
Veruca Salt — She didn’t so much “find” her Golden Ticket as have it delivered to her by her obliging father.
Violet Beauregarde — She’s a champion. I guess. I mean, she chews gum a lot. The same piece. Forever. Blech!
Mike Teevee — He cracked the code, tracking lot numbers or something like that to buy the exact bar in which he found his Golden Ticket. He doesn’t even like chocolate.
And, of course, each of the kids have a guardian with them when the y attend the factory tour.
So what about these Seven Deadly Sins you mentioned?
Oh, right. About that.
The Seven Deadly Sins, also known as “Cardinal Sins,” have been around collectively for quite some time. They are called “deadly” not because they are individually any worse than any other sin, but because they often lead to other sins. Likewise, “Cardinal” refers to direction, as in “if you commit these sins, you’ll lose your way,” again, because they can easily lead to other sins. With that in mind, one is often closely related to another. The list as we know it now first appeared in 590 AD thanks to Pope Gregory and Dante’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy. They are lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.
The Seven Deadly Sins (7DS) as illustrated in Tim Burton’s movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
…in the order of explanatory discussion with an 8-year-old.
- Greed – Perhaps the most easily understood of the 7DS to a kid, greed is one of the most prevalent throughout the movie. Greed, like gluttony and lust, is considered a sin of excess. What does that mean to an 8-year-old? How about, “Did you notice how everyone wants those Golden Tickets so much that someone even made a fake ticket to get a prize? All of those kids, except Charlie, were willing to go to extremes to try to get a ticket. Charlie mostly just hoped for a ticket, but even when he won one, he was ready to give it up to help his family.” (In the older movie, there’s an even better example, where a woman is told that the ransom for presumably her husband is her case of Wonka bars, and she asks if there’s anything else they can do. She values the candy over her loved one’s life.)
- Gluttony – Augustus Gloop. Nuff said? As non-politically correct as it is to talk about people’s weight, in this case, it is a visceral and intended illustration of Augustus’ love of candy. He is fat — yes, fat — because he constantly eats candy. When asked what he did to celebrate finding the Golden Ticket, he responds, “I eat more candy!” Kids understand this. But gluttony is more than taking too much. It is also consuming to such excess that it takes from others. “Was it healthy for Augustus to eat as much candy as he ate? What could he have done instead? If you could have as much candy as you ever wanted, what would you do? Would you share?” (This was also a good tie-in to VeggieTale’s “Rack, Shack, & Benny.”) Augustus’ gluttony leads to his, shall we say, getting sucked out of the running for the “ultimate prize” at the end.
- Sloth – Augustus Gloop worked as a bridge to sloth, since he spent every waking moment eating candy, he didn’t exactly have time for physical activity. Likewise, Mike Teevee, sitting in front of the TV playing video games all day helped to illustrate the point of sloth. “Gee, he sure spends a lot of time in front of a screen, doesn’t he? Daddy and I don’t let you boys spend that much screen time. Why not? Do you think Mike Teevee reads much? Does he ever get quiet time? How about exercise? Why is quiet time good? What’s so good about exercise?” It’s important to note that the sin of sloth isn’t just about lying around doing nothing. It’s about spiritual sloth as well. It’s about exercising the mind and spirit as much as the body.
- Wrath – One of the reasons why I was ok with letting a 3-year-old watch this movie is that it ranks pretty low on the violence scale. One might think that would mean it was lacking in illustrations of wrath. But wrath or rage rears its head with Mike Teevee and his video games. At one point, you hear him yell, “Die! Die! Die!” as he is playing. And when he is invited to explore the grassy knoll within the factory and to “enjoy” it, he does so by smashing a candy pumpkin, stomping it to bits. “What character has the worst temper? When do you see a character show his or her anger?” In addition to Mike Teevee, we discussed that Veruca had a pretty foul temper as well, and it was closely linked to another of the 7DS…
- Envy – Veruca Salt wants, wants, wants. Even when she has no right to the object of her desires. She is never content with what she has. Even when she is handed the Golden Ticket, instead of saying “Thank you,” her response is, “I want another pony.” While it is amusing in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, it’s also disgusting for the accuracy of the caricature, the social commentary, that it makes. This was an interesting point to discuss. Perhaps the most telling question to consider was, “Veruca wants a lot of things, and her parents, especially her father, give her whatever she wants. Is she happy? Why?” Even a rising third-grader can recognize that getting what you want isn’t the key to happiness. And envy can be closely tied to wrath, especially when you’re used to getting your way all the time. Veruca’s envy of Willy Wonka’s squirrels was ultimately her downfall.
- Lust – This one was tricky. Primarily because, well, we’re talking about an 8-year-old. And it’s a kids’ movie, so there weren’t any real solid examples, except for maybe a sideways glance between a couple of the parents. That said, I explained lust as wanting a person much like envy is wanting a thing. He was content with that and a pat “you’ll understand it better when you’re older.”
- Pride – C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, identifies pride as the most dangerous of the 7DS. All other sins can, one way or another, be traced back to pride. It was pride that led Satan to fall from God’s grace. And it was pride, granted, at a lesser degree, that led Violet Beauregarde to the juicer. How do you explain “pride” to a child who is born into a society wherein self-esteem reigns supreme? Violet’s “I’m the best” attitude was lacking the humility of Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas’ “because God wills it.” I explained pride as “thinking you know or can do better than everyone else, even God.” He chimed in, “But God isn’t in this movie.” And I found that so telling. But I was impressed that he recognized that God was not acknowledged in the world of the movie. We talked about examples of pride throughout the movie, and we talked about how the characters would have acted differently if they followed Jesus’ teachings. In particular, I asked him to identify the prideful actions of:
- Violet Beauregarde
- Willy Wonka
- Mike Teevee
- Veruca’s father
Then we talked about Charlie.
I asked …
- What made him different from the other characters?
- What did he value above all things?
- How could you tell?
- What did he teach Willy Wonka?
I was impressed with the depth of our discussion on a Saturday morning. Especially for having been spurred by a Tim Burton film.
“In the end, Charlie Bucket won a chocolate factory. But Willy Wonka had something even better, a family. And one thing was absolutely certain – life had never been sweeter.” — last lines of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.