Taika Waititi is going to be helming a pair of new Netflix shows: an animated adaption of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and a second animated show focused solely on the Oompa-Loompas. If I don’t sound excited it’s because I already spent three hours standing outside my front door, yelling at the night sky.
Waititi, who has previously directed Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit, will be no doubt be bringing his signature style of humor and his personal ethos to the series. Not only will he direct, but he will also serve as a writer and executive producer for both shows.
Taika Waititi will write, direct, & EP two animated series based on the works of Roald Dahl.
The first is based on the world and characters of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The second is a wholly original take on the Oompa-Loompas, that builds out their world pic.twitter.com/TqIzxTlRSf
— Netflix US (@netflix) March 5, 2020
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has had a long list of adaptations running from stage to screen to radio. The first movie, released in 1971 and starring Gene Wilder, has a 91% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is widely regarded as staying faithful to the spirit of the book (though Roald Dahl himself “never liked it“). The most recent movie, directed by Tim Burton and released in 2005, added a backstory for Willy Wonka and had a Burton-esque, highly-stylized feel that lacked heart.
Taika Waititi’s involvement with the new project inspires some real confidence. When he came in to direct Marvel’s third Thor movie, he was making a sequel to Thor: The Dark World, which was a solid enough addition to the franchise but rarely makes anyone’s top five list of Marvel movies.
One of the best things Waititi added to the world of Thor in his Ragnarok movie was a sense that people with hubris would be cut down to size, with an overconfident Thor himself being consistently and comically humbled throughout. What could be better for an adaption of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory than a writer who already enjoys playing with the theme of arrogance finding its immediate comeuppance?
Taika Waititi’s writing touch will also be welcome when it comes to the Oompa-Loompas. The 2005 movie had the Oompa-Loompas as identical workers in the chocolate factory, some with chipmunk-effect voices. The movie released in 1971 depicted the Oompa-Loompas as orange-skinned and green-haired beings who sang admittedly catchy songs. The book itself, when originally released, had illustrations of the Oompa-Loompas as Black little people. This was updated in a later edition with Quentin Blake illustrations, in which the Oompa-Loompas appeared to be white.
How to handle the Oompa-Loompas in a story is a thorny issue. Dahl’s books were my personal favorites as I was growing up, but they are very, very far from perfect. To describe the situation in broad strokes, the book’s Oompa-Loompas are written as a group of exotified little people who come from a faraway land and now work for a white man in his factory. The parallels with slavery and a colonial mindset are uncomfortably clear.
The fact that Taika Waititi himself comes from New Zealand and has indigenous heritage raises hopes that he will be able to write the Oompa-Loompas in a way that doesn’t normalize or glorify the colonial implications of the original book.
Waititi’s work on Jojo Rabbit, in which he plays a version of Adolf Hitler, shows that he is unafraid of confronting issues of race head-on. Jojo Rabbit was itself an adaption of a book, Caging Skies, by Christine Leunen, which is another good sign for these upcoming shows he’s working on; he’s clearly comfortable with taking a work from page to screen (not an easily accomplished task). Taika Waititi’s unique humor and depth of feeling soar in Jojo Rabbit, in a way we can only hope to see again as he pens the latest Charlie adaption and its sister series.
If nothing else, we can be reassured that in the upcoming version the Oompa-Loompas won’t be swept into the background, or made to dance for our entertainment, without their history and identities as people being thoroughly explored. They’re getting a series wholly focused on them alone, which strongly implies Waititi’s intentions to make the Oompa-Loompas’ story his own.
Can we expect any queer characters in the upcoming shows? Taika Waititi’s record on including LGBTQIA+ characters, while not wildly praiseworthy, is nevertheless worth talking about: most notably, a non-binary actor has been cast in a non-binary role in a different upcoming project. A scene that confirmed the queerness of Thor character Valkyrie was shot, but then later left out of Ragnarok‘s final cut. And in Jojo Rabbit, the visual storytelling of a romance between two men, Finkel and Captain Klezendorf, was lightly done.
This last representation has drawn criticism for not being more explicit; it can’t be denied that the movie contains no spoken representation, and is guilty of the bury your gays trope.
Overall, then, our chance of some overt LGBTQIA+ representation in the two upcoming series looks a little slim, particularly as the shows are aimed at the notoriously heteronormative children’s TV market. We can hold out hope nonetheless.
The announcement of these two adaptions from Dahl has come as a surprise for those who have been keeping an eye on the progress of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie that was reported to be in the works at Warner Bros Studios. The last we heard, Paddington and Paddington 2 director Paul King was confirmed by the Hollywood Reporter to be directing. No word yet from Warner Bros on whether the Netflix series will delay or change their plans for the movie.
Netflix US and Netflix UK and Ireland made the original announcements on their Twitter accounts, but Netflix UK & Ireland followed up by teasing that Charlie and the Oompa-Loompa series aren’t the only Dahl adaptations coming up on their service.
Reportedly, we can also look forward to Matilda, The BFG, The Twits, and more. The choice of Taika Waititi to write and produce is an inspired one, a true galaxy-brain moment that we can only hope to see replicated for the later animated series.
These two series are just the beginning – Matilda, The BFG, The Twits, and many other beloved Dahl stories are set to follow soon!
— Netflix UK & Ireland (@NetflixUK) March 5, 2020
Not to be dramatic, but I think I need to go outside and yell for a while longer.
Author: Em Rowntree
I’m a non-binary writer, teacher, and cat-lover from the UK.
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