Sunday, July 31, 2005

Movie Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

United States/United Kingdom, 2005
U.S. Release Date: 7/15/05
Running Time: 1:55
Rated: PG
Cast: Freddie Highmore, Johnny Depp, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Deep Roy, Christopher Lee, Annasophia Robb, Julia Winter, Jordon Fry, Philip Wiegratz

Director: Tim Burton
Producers: Brad Grey, Richard D. Zanuck
Screenplay: John August, based on the book by Roald Dahl
Music: Danny Elfman
Studio: Warner Brothers


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“Weird” – a word that is worn-out in Tim Burton’s retelling of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – is single-handedly the best adjective to use in describing this film. Then again, with Tim Burton in the director’s chair, oddity is expected. With Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Burton conveys his typical dreariness and idiosyncrasies and utilizes his favorite faces in Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. In an attempt to appease Roald Dahl’s literary legacy, Burton has crafted a film that is more faithful to the text, yet more bleak and bitter than the fluffy original.

Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp), the world’s most infamous candy creator, is reopening his doors to give five lucky children a tour of his marvelous, yet mysterious, chocolate factory. Children can only gain entry to the factory by finding one of the five golden tickets wrapped inside Wonka’s many-flavored chocolate bars.

After chocoholic Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), video-game nut Mike Teavee (Jordon Fry), spoiled rotten daughter Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), and gum-chewing champion Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb) all find golden tickets, the final ticket finds its way into the hands of the near-penniless Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore). Upon entering the factory, the five children and their family-member escorts are reminded that only one of the five will win something “beyond their wildest imagination.”

Freddie Highmore, whom Depp recommended to Burton based on his work in Finding Neverland, is the perfect choice to play the title character. His Charlie calls for far more praise than Peter Ostrum’s young Bucket. Highmore brings a sense of innocence and depth to the lead role. However, it is odd that the 1971 musical is named after Willy and the new version is named after Charlie (as the book is) – yet Willy still steals the show.

Playing Willy Wonka, Johnny Depp further shows off his versatility; however, his character does possess the capacity to creep out the faint of heart. While some have compared his Wonka to Wacko Jacko, this connection is moot. Although, pedophilic undertones could be drawn when Wonka explains, “Everything in this room is edible, even me.”

In support, David Kelly displays his best Burgess Meredith impression and dances his way through the film as a spry Grandpa Joe. Also, Christopher Lee holds a commanding – albeit small presence – in the role of Willy’s father. Intimidation for Lee comes easy—considering he last played Saruman in The Lord of the Rings. In addition, the hundred-times-over digital clone of Deep Roy manages the difficult redefinition of an Oompa Loompa.

While Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has its moments of fantasy and visual acuity, Burton is at his best when he sticks to his stop-animation or the reflective likes of Big Fish. On the whole, the factory doesn’t work as well as it should. A cog is missing, and that cog is a justifiable reason for this remake. While fans of the novel will be pleased, the million-dollar question is: How many moviegoers will exit the theatre feeling more morose than mirthful—longing for blue round Oompa Loompas and the same old song and dance from Gene Wilder? (**1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005