235 – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Amazing sets and catchy tunes aside, this remake of the 1971 original suffers a bit from an intentionally effected performance by Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka but is buoyed tremendously by Freddie Highmore, playing Charlie Bucket. Whimsical and highly imaginative, Tim Burton’s latest melange of creativity is wholesome without being entirely pure, although the edge of the original film (and Roald Dahl’s story) is somewhat blunted.

Wonka’s world-famous candy factory has been closed to the public – anyone, really – for decades, although candy still emerges each morning, neatly packed and ready to ship. Then one day, Wonka himself announces he has placed Golden Tickets in five Wonka Bars distributed throughout the globe. The children who find the five tickets are thereupon invited to a Grand Tour of the mysterious factory, and one of the kids will get a Veddy Special Prize at the end.

The kids are the same as in the first film: snotty spoiled brat Veruca Salt, overachiever Violet Beauregarde, glutton Augustus Gloop, hostile Mike Teavee, and waiflike Charlie Bucket. Throughout the tour, each exposes his or her own self as a greedy, conniving fiend – except, of course, for poor (literally) Charlie, who’s accompanied by his superold grandpa (David Kelly, who’s fantastic).

The sets are stunning, from the chocolate river to the squirrels’ QC lab, and this allows one to forget how annoying Depp’s Wonka is. He’s intentionally unique, which is sort of a euphemism for “we want him to be as strange as possible, the better to distance him from the people from the outside world.” Some have said that Depp was consciously aping Michael Jackson in his mannerisms, but I don’t really see it. Heck, his Wonka doesn’t even like kids, and he detests any kind of familial arrangement. I admire Depp for trying to make the role his own (and thus differentiating his work from that of Gene Wilder), but his Wonka was a little too loopy for me – it was tough to get a handle on him. And when you did think you knew what he was about, he’d say something that disproved that; sometimes that seemed to be a heavyhanded approach, a way to cynically manipulate the audience. If it was supposed to keep us on our toes, it failed, because I got tired of the character’s contrarian attitude.

A real treat, added just for the movie, is Wonka’s father, played by the estimable Christopher Lee. The senior Wonka is a dentist (of course he is) who has not seen his only son since the latter left home to become a chocolatier. Which brings up an interesting question. How come Dr. Wonka looks older when he reunites with Willy than when they’re together in flashbacks… but Willy doesn’t? In fact, Willy Wonka looks pretty young – Lee looks more like his grandfather. Depp still has quite the boyish look about him; he appears to be in his late twenties, possible midthirties.

I also enjoyed the Oompa Loompas, played by exactly one guy – Deep Roy. Roy repeated the movements of the Oompa Loompahs hundreds of times, and then he was digitally repeated over and over again, creating the illusion that he was many instead of one. A fine, fun job.

Highmore is a truly great find; he played Peter in Finding Neverland, also starring Depp. Depp recommended Highmore to Tim Burton for the role of the angelic Charlie, and it turned out to be a most excellent recommendation. Charlie is alternately sage and blissfully naive, wise beyond his few years but still innocent at heart.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory isn’t as meanspirited as its predecessor, but it does have better scenery and fine performances – even the kids, so horribly bratty in the original, are merely rotten in this one. Burton proves again he has the visual part of directing down pat, although sometimes the heart eludes him.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: **1/2

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2 Responses to “235 – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

  1. 2008 Movies to Wait for « Frothy Ruminations Says:

    […] or Harry Potter, or The Golden Compass.. but it does sound interesting, and Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Finding Neverland) plays twin boys – and he’s a great young […]

  2. Frothy Ruminations » Blog Archive » 2008 Movies to Wait for Says:

    […] or Harry Potter, or The Golden Compass.. but it does sound interesting, and Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Finding Neverland) plays twin boys – and he’s a great young […]

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