I did this comparison as a video, but I've added the text to the post for those of you who might prefer to read it. Enjoy. ;)
On the whole, there are a good number of things I actually prefer in the film over the movie. Especially the ending.
I did dislike that the extra plot details they infused to better adapt the story to film came at the expense of the vivid characters from the book. Even though Armande was played by the beloved and fantastic Judi Dench, she was not as interesting a character on screen as she was on the page. I thought her entire story line, especially with Luc, was handled poorly. I didn't get a good sense of their relationship; I thought it was horrible that they have Luc the one to discover his grandmother is dead. I suppose they wanted to skirt around the issue of Armande planning for death, on her terms, but if they were trying to avoid potential unpleasantness, I don't think having her grandkid finding that she died in her chair while he did dishes was a good move. It felt horrific and traumatic; it didn't convey the sense of peace Armande has in the book. On the upside, it did act as a step in the repair of Luc's relationship with his mother, which is maybe what they were really going for.
I love Johnny Deep. I love Johnny Depp as Roux. I did not like how they altered his character to be so mellow. They played his initial distrust of Vianne, but after that they didn't stay very true to his character. I don't remember any memorable conversations between him and Armande, and their relationship was one of my favorite parts, this big gruff man and this tiny old woman always giving each other a hard time. He didn't get mad when his boat burned down, he didn't go off and sulk. He was almost...too perfect. The film took away the flaws of his personality to fit him into the role of romantic interest, but his flaws were what made him interesting.
I didn't entirely mind that the film turned Roux and Vianne's relationship into a romance. Even thought it didn't happen in the book, with the way they altered the story and the ending, they made it work. And since the relationship of Roux and Josephine in the book is only talked of as an eventuality, and never actually 'happens' within the context of the story, it didn't bother me adversely, because I did actually like the ending Vianne got. What can I say? I'm a happy ending kind of girl.
I was very sad they didn't play up Vianne's magic in the film. Instead, they shifted it all onto the 'clever North Wind' that pulls her from place to place like the unseen, mysterious Charlie giving mission directives to his Angels. Part of what I loved about Chocolat was this essence of magic realism, the sort of unexplained reality that, yes, magic is real, Vianne uses it, people don't really believe it, but it's true all the same.
Vianne was made a much more volatile personality. I liked it better in the book when she doesn't fly off the handle once Reynaud starts encouraging people to boycott her store. She possessed a kind of carefree surrealism in the books regarding the town and the opinions of others which I loved.
Now for the most important part of this little comparison. Let's talk about the ending.
In the book review I did for Chocolat, I ranted a bit about how unsatisfactory I found the ending, especially concerning Reynaud. No offense to Joanne Harris, but I hated the ending she used in the book. The movie literally did exactly what I wanted them to, as far as Reynaud's character. True, they drastically changed his role in the story from the zealous, self-absorbed priest to the mayor who doesn't want to admit his wife has left him, but the final scene in the book, when Reynaud breaks into the chocolate shop to demolish everything and instead stuffs himself with chocolate -they did that exactly as what I wanted it to be, what I was waiting for the entire book. Instead of being caught by the whole town and turned into a laughingstock, he's instead awakened by Vianne and the priest, who help him out of the window. And Reynaud looks at Vianne, looks at what he's done, and he's horrified. He's mortified. And he apologizes. He changes.
I don't think the film needed to change him from the priest to the mayor. They probably only did it to work in a romance between Reynaud and Caroline Clairmont (who they also widowed in the movie) which, again, was unnecessary, BUT it transformed them into more sympathetic characters and I liked them much better than I did in the book. I also didn't mind the priest character they created to fill Reynaud's vacancy, and not just because he got caught singing 'Ain't Nothing But A Hounddog' by the uptight mayor.
But the ending didn't just benefit Reynaud! Nearly everyone accepted the chance to learn and grow over the course of the story -like Claire, the controlling mother who actually learns to trust her son, and Luc, who by the end of the book simply tolerates his mother, but by the end of the film had actually reached an understanding with her that improved their relationship! This was what I truly wanted to see in the book, this growing and changing of most of the characters, rather than the elite few.
I wanted to see the various relationships actually benefit from the events and that is what the movie gave me. The town itself is happier because issues are resolved and people come closer together.
Do you have a preference between the book and the movie?
Were there changes you loved or hated?