David Kelly, Freddie Highmore, Johnny Depp, Deep Roy, Jordan Fry and Adam Godley in Warner Bros. Pictures' Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - 2005
Tim Burton has made a point to tell everyone he can that his new movie is not a remake of the classic Gene Wilder children's fantasy, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. No, this is a new reimagining of the classic children's book. That's very important to him, apparently. Ok, fine. It's not a remake. Whatever.
In fact, it is a remake, and so what? Tim Burton, who stumbled with the overly ambitious Big Fish, and crashed with the idiotic Planet of the Apes, has given the old story a fine new look, with polished writing and acting, and a nicely updated, if unnecessarily complicated, new plot line. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory marks a return to the Tim Burton standard tale of the sweet, yet slightly damaged boy trying to survive in a world that's far too normal, i.e., Edward Scissorhands, arguably Burton's best work. In short, despite all our fears and trepidation, Roald Dahl's confectionary tale turns out to have been right up Tim Burton's alley.
If you missed the earlier film, or the book, the story is thus: Charlie Bucket, a poor London waif who lives with his mother, father, and both sets of grandparents in a run-down one-room house in the shadow of the titular chocolate factory, loves Willy Wonka. Spurred on by fantastic tales from his Grandpa Joe, a former employee, and Wonka's fantastic chocolate bars, Charlie dreams of a day when he might possibly get to see the inside of the fabulous factory. And then, one day, he gets his chance. Wonka has peppered his stock with five golden tickets, each one offering one lucky child the chance of a lifetime: a tour of the Wonka facility, a lifetime supply of chocolate, and maybe, just maybe, something more. One by one the tickets are snatched up until only one is left, and it won't spoil the surprise to tell you that it ends up in little Charlie's hands. What awaits him is an adventure of pure imagination, to steal a tune from the original film's soundtrack. Along the way he meets a varied and somewhat unsavory cast of characters, from Veruca Salt and Augustus Gloop, to an army of diminutive Oompa Loompas, to the grand wizard of weird himself, the elusive Willy Wonka.
Burton's stylized, fairy tale style works well with this story, his intense attention to details like color and movement playing into a beautifully fashioned landscape, be it inside the factory itself, on the streets of cities across the world, or in the cramped confines of the Bucket household. Populating that landscape are an accomplished group of actors who play their characters, one notes all, to the hilt. At the forefront, of course, is Burton's muse, Johnny Depp, who makes a perfect, if creepy, Willy Wonka. Comparisons between the films are inevitable, but Depp has created his Wonka anew, not besting Wilder's incarnation, but not overshadowed by it either. In the role of Charlie is young Freddie Highmore, last seen in Finding Neverland, also with Depp. Highmore shows great potential, and what's better, he's British, so maybe he'll avoid being eaten alive by the Hollywood child-actor machine. Also outstanding is David Kelly in the role of Grandpa Joe. Kelly, an Irish actor with a career spanning back to 1958, is one of those actors who you swear you've seen before, but you're just not sure where. Hopefully, we'll see him again after this. Burton also weaves some nice social commentary into the story, a concept evident in both the book and original film, which, incidentally, Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay for. Most notably updated is the character of Mike Teavee, who now harbors a barely concealed rage brought on by non-stop violent video games.
There were some drawbacks to the film. For one, the film clips along at a pace that seems to take some of the edge off the morality tale it is spinning. As well, in typical Hollywood fashion, Burton and Co. hedge their bets as to the fates to the other factory-touring children, and the creepy character of Slugworth is gone almost completely. That said, the film is decidedly dark in places, and there are some scenes that made me want to hide my eyes, and I'm decidedly older than the target audience of the film. The Oompa Loompas were a real disappointment. I suppose they looked fine, each a different digital representation of the same actor, Deep Roy, but their songs were totally lost, either to the artificially high pitch or speed. In the end, though, I think the few disappointments I felt were far outweighed by relief I felt that Wonka wasn't another Apes. Burton may not be entirely consistent, but when he's really cooking, it can sure taste sweet. Grade: B+
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is rated PG for a few disturbing images.
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