Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I really like the original Willy Wonka and am not entirely fond of Tim Burton's ouvre (I liked Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice was okay... that's about the extent of my fondness) so I have not been looking forward to this new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and hadn't had any interest in reading anything about it up until now. However, reader Andrea B. sent me a production still of squirrel workers in the Wonka factory this morning (the photo on the upper left of this page) and that has spurred me to get all Paul Harvey and find out the rest of the story on these furry little thespians.

"Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" undeniably left a fair amount of its source material behind. There is neither a visit to the book's whangdoodle-infested jungles of Loompaland, nor a glimpse of Prince Pondicherry's melting chocolate palace. With only $3 million to spend, Stuart also ditched Roald's nut-cracking squirrels, opting instead for a golden egg-laying goose. Without the financial constraints faced by Stuart (thanks to European production credits, the film's net budget is about $150 million), Burton and his production team not only visited Loompaland and Pondicherry but also taught each of 40 squirrels how to sit upon a little blue bar stool, tap and then open a walnut, and deposit its meat onto a conveyor belt. In a regimen that would exhaust even Hilary Swank, the squirrels trained every day for 10 weeks before filming commenced. They began their coaching while newborns, fed by bottles to form relationships with human trainers."When we first read the script, we had our doubts, as Tim was very specific about what he wanted the squirrels to do," says animal trainer Michael Alexander. As Alexander speaks, several dozen of the film's squirrels jump somersaults in their cages. "They're not really good at taking verbal commands. And you have to acclimate them to a stage, and lights, and hearing things. They tend to panic."

I did see a bus shelter poster of Veruca Salt a few weeks ago with a squirrel perched on her head, which got my attention for a moment, but I figured any rodents in the film would be CGI and digital squirrels are not enough to sway me from my mild aversion to Tim Burton movies. Real live squirrels acting on the big screen, however, are another story entirely, and I think I may end up seeing this project after all. In addition to the story featured on the page I linked to above, there's also this interview with an assistant squirrel wrangler from the production for further information.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If only I had been given that kind of time and resources I could have had a full time career as a rat wrangler.

Mike A

8:24 AM  

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