'Everything in the room is eatable, even I'm eatable, but that's called cannibalism.' Johnny Deep as Willie Wonka
After fifteen years of reclusiveness, Willie Wonka (Johnny Depp, "Finding Neverland") emerges to announce that the five children who find golden tickets wrapped with their Wonka chocolate bars will gain admittance to his mysterious candy factory and that one of the five will additionally receive a prize beyond all imagining. Within sight of that factory is little Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore, "Finding Neverland"), a young boy whose loving family is so poor they can only afford to buy him one Wonka bar on his birthday in Tim Burton's remake of the Roald Dahl story, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
It's been over ten years since Burton hit one out of the park with "Ed Wood." While "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is a step in the right direction, it owes immeasurably to Burton's "Edward Scissorhands" and yet it never really soars the way that film did.
Oddly, what is on the one hand a disappointment - the chocolate factory isn't really anything all that special, one Kubrickian set withstanding - could also be interpreted as subtle planning, a deliberate move to make the audience more drawn towards the broken-down, leaning tree-house nature of the warm Bucket household (production design by Alex McDowell, "The Crow"). The film is expertly cast and Depp's performance may be the most inventive thing about the entire film.
Opening credits reveal a sterile assembly line producing thousands of Wonka bars, which end up packed in crates addressed to the far corners of the world. We're introduced to the Bucket family as Mother (Helena Bonham Carter, "Big Fish") cooks up yet another batch of cabbage soup, two sets of grandparents share a bed in the middle of the room, and Father (Noah Taylor, "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou") returns from his job screwing caps onto tubes of toothpaste. A gift of rejected caps enables Charlie to complete his mini-model of Wonka's factory and provides a jumping off point for Grandpa Joe's (David Kelly, "Waking Ned Devine") recollections of working for Willie back in the golden age before he locked the front gates.
Charlie's golden ticket rivals are introduced via a world media focussed on the five winners. Validating grandfather George's (David Morris) prediction that the first pass holder would be a porker, Augustus Gloop (newcomer Philip Wiegratz) of Dusseldorf is a chocolate-stained, porcine little boy. Veruca Salt (newcomer Julia Winter) is an insufferably spoiled brat whose peanut magnate father (James Fox, "Sexy Beast") purchased hundreds of thousands of chocolate bars to satisfy her demands, then retrained his workers from shelling nuts to unwrapping candy. In Atlanta, Violet Beauregard (AnnaSophia Robb, "Because of Winn-Dixie") is an expert in karate currently working towards a record in gum-chewing. Mike Teavee (newcomer Jordan Fry, sporting puppy dog eyes in a tough guy's mug), is a show offy know-it-all who doesn't even like candy - he just wanted to outfox the seeming randomness of the contest.
After it's decided that Grandpa Joe will accompany Charlie (who found his ticket in a Wonka Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight purchased with a found bank note), the winners assemble in the factory yard where they're astounded by a mechanical puppet show introduction which goes haywire. This delights the seriously weird Wonka, who recoils from children, but can't restrain his enthusiasm for showing off his factory. Burton and screenwriter John August ("Big Fish") add a new twist, providing a childhood trauma as the catalyst for Wonka's eccentric career, but otherwise maintain Dahl's systematic expulsion of the unworthy children along the way with punishments tailored to their bad behaviors. Wonka's also thrown a curve ball when he grants his big prize that makes him confront his own parental past, but it allows both the child man and deserving boy a very happy ending.
Once again, Depp's clearly having a ball confecting another of his patented oddballs. His Wonka is a bit like Ed Wood in Oompa Loompa land, a man enthralled with his own life's work but completely out of touch with the rest of the world. His coy delivery, particularly when 'warning' children of imminent danger with something less than conviction, is great fun. His habit of clenching his hands in squeaky purple gloves when agitated adds a slightly sinister air to the character that also has psychological roots with his daddy. Depp's "Neverland" costar is just right for the thoroughly good but never sticky sweet Charlie, as are the rest of the Bucket family including "Neverland's" Mrs. Snow, Eileen Essell, as Grandma Josephine and Bonham Carter's "A Merry Way" costar Liz Smith as sweetly dotty Grandma Georgina. Standouts among the brats are gummy Julia Winter and the fat-suited Wiegratz. Missi Pyle is the most notable of the parental characters, one of those All American horrors of a mom who ruthlessly push their kids through one competition after the next. Then there's Deep Roy ("Big Fish") who acts the part of every single Oompa Loompa, even in the Busby Berkelyesque dance numbers. Kudos also to animal trainer Mike Alexander who somehow managed to coax performances out of a roomful of squirrels.
Yet despite the efforts of the cast, "Charlie" suffers too many dead spots. While it's admirable that Burton wished to hue to Dahl's book rather than 1971's "Willie Wonka" movie, he can't make Violet's transformation into a giant blueberry any more engrossing. Composer Danny Elfman, who also provides the Oompa Loompas' vocals, created musical numbers for each kid's farewell using Dahl's words for the lyrics, and frankly, they're just not that interesting. Wonka world just isn't magical enough. It's also jarring that while the rotten kids are all given home towns, Charlie and Willie live in an unnamed land that is still clearly England but with the dollar as its monetary unit. Do the filmmakers really think that American audiences can't deal with British pounds?
There is also the feeling of Burton repeating himself, what with the assembly lines, misguided father figures played by former horror stars and the cookie cutter neighborhood developments of "Edward Scissorhands." In a ribbon-cutting scene, the director even poses Depp with shears extending from his coat sleeve.
Still, this is a decent enough film for kids and fans of Burton and Depp, and there's still the upcoming Burton/Depp collaboration, "Corpse Bride," to look forward to. In the interim, "Charlie's" a sweet piece of fluff.
Little Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) lives with his beloved nuclear family in their rickety shack that sits in the shadows of the great and mysterious Willy Wonka chocolate factory. Every day he wishes that, just once, he could get inside the magnificent place and learn its secrets. This seems a hopeless dream until a notice is posted that five golden tickets have been circulated worldwide and the finders would be granted a daylong tour that will end with one of the five winners with a very special prize in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
Tim Burton, a man responsible for some wonderfully inventive films like “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” “Ed Wood” and “Edward Scissorhands” has faltered in his most recent outings. “Mars Attack!” and “Planet of the Apes” were indulgent messes and “Big Fish,” while better, is still an uneven, overly long work. So, it is nice to see him back in good form with his retelling of the Roald Dahl story of the film’s title.
Charlie…” was previously brought to the screen in 1971 as “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” starring Gene Wilder as the title character. Wilder played chocolatier Willy Wonka with a sparkle in his eye and a positive outlook on life that aimed for a high happy quotient. Tim Burton puts a darker edge on his telling of the reclusive Willy who closed the doors of his factory 15 years earlier. Since then, not a soul has been seen entering or leaving the place.
Many folks are probably familiar with the story of Charlie…,” either through Dahl’s book or via the ’71 film, so I’ll keep it basic for those not in the know. Willy Wonka, long out of the public eye for reason’s unknown, has decided to invite the five children who find the coveted golden tickets, each accompanied by one parent, to a tour of his chocolate and candy making empire. The tickets are found by glutinous Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), spoiled rotten Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), champion gum-chewer and over-achieving Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb), know-it-all Mike Teavee (Jordon Frye) and, lastly, good-hearted and kind Charlie Bucket. As the tour goes on, each of the children’s bad traits become their downfall. Except for one.
Tim Burton and his team are in top form as they create a truly fantastical world where everything you see you can eat. The filmmakers keep things simple with each child bearing a single bad trait, such as gluttony, greed and pride, and paying for these sins in clever, visually striking ways. This is helped along with amusing, colorful and nicely choreographed song and dance numbers featuring the merry and hardworking Oompa-Loompas (all portrayed by Deep Roy). Production is varied and flashy though not the equal of some of Burton’s best works.
The kids are well cast across the board. Freddie Highmore is proving to be a capable and very likable young actor following his sold performances in Finding Neverland” (again, opposite Johnny Depp) and Jean Jacques Annaud’s “Two Brothers.” He gives Charlie a sweet and loving persona as a child who may live in a tumbling down shack but he is there with the people he loves and who love him. The other young actors all do a good job in their respective roles and sins.
Noah Taylor as his dad, Helena Bonham Carter as his mom and David Kelly as his favorite Grandpa Joe nicely portray Charlie’s family. But, of the adults in the film, Johnny Depp gets to put the most spin on his Willy Wonka. Burton and scripter John August give Willy a back story as a child whose disciplinarian dentist father (Christopher Lee) has deprived his son of the pleasures of chocolate and drives a rift between father and son, estranging them forever. Depp uses this angst to give grown up Willy a sad loneliness and petulance as he shelters himself in his huge factory to avoid being hurt. The actor makes Willy a man-child emotionally and is a natural in his deadpan delivery.
The sumptuous production combines huge, colorful sets, catchy tunes, flashy dance routines, lots of humor aimed at the children viewers and, thankfully, plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor to keep the adults well entertained from beginning to end. Sets are a fantasy vision much in keeping with Burton and company.
In comparison, I have to give “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” the edge over its predecessor especially when comparing Depp to Wilder. I, personally, like the darker, almost sinister edge that Tim Burton gives his latest film. I give it a B.
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