Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
John August (Novel: Roald Dahl)
Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Missi Pyle, James Fox, Deep Roy, Christopher Lee, Adam Godley, Franziska Troegner, Annasophia Robb, Julia Winter, Jordan Fry, Philip Wiegratz, Blair Dunlop, Liz Smith, Eileen Essell, David Morris
PG (For quirky situations, action and mild language)
One of many remakes of Hollywood classics, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory puts the darkness back into the story that the 1971 classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory took out.
Johnny Depp casts a mesmerizing spell as the childlike Willy Wonka. Having grown up with a careless father, the audience learns that Wonka makes millions and founds a chocolate factory, employing a good portion of the city’s people. When he suspects someone is stealing his super secret recipes, he fires all of the employees and closes the doors. No one works there and no one has seen Wonka for years but his factory still produces tons of candy.
This is the story of a young boy named Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) who joins four other children on a magical tour through his great candy plant. Everything has been automated except for a strange race of creatures called Oompa Loompas (every one played by Deep Roy).
Through the various trials in the Wonka Factory, Charlie and Willy learn a great deal about themselves and each other. The kids really make this film special. There’s the viciously self-centered Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), the chatterbox gum-chewer Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb), the festively plump Augustus Gloop (Philip Weigratz) and the television obsessed video game addict Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry). Each of the child actors play their characters with wild abandon. It doesn’t matter how ludicrously one-dimensional they are as it only adds to the entertainment value of the film. Highmore is as good as he was in last year’s Finding Neverland though his Charlie Bucket could have benefited from more depth.
Depp, on the other hand, outdoes his work in “Neverland”. He doesn’t quite reach the heights of perfection he has in the past but he’s still quite delightful here. The actors who portray the contestants’ parents understand their place in Charlie and match their performances up to their younger counterparts. Christopher Lee, following up his success as one of film history’s most tantalizing villains (Saruman in the Lord of the Rings trilogy), scales back his work just a little. It’s not as impressive as his fantasy epic work but he’s still everything the audience expects.
Tim Burton is a master of visuals. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory he works his cinematic magic again. He commands his environments with such exacting precision that one can’t help but lose oneself in the intricate layers of sets and costumes. With Willy Wonka , the world was pretty well visualized. Now, perfection has been improved upon with the masterful work of production designer Alex McDowell, set decorator Peter Young and costume designer Gabriella Pescucci.
Big Fish screenwriter John August has created a wonderful screenplay but gives too much attention to Wonka’s personal background. We learn enough early on to understand why he is such a big child but after a time, the flashbacks become redundant and unnecessary. It’s this issue that becomes the film’s biggest flaw. There’s a point when even the slightest hint of a flashback makes it hard not to cringe.
Anyone who fondly remembers Gene Wilder’s 1971 classic will undoubtedly find things to scoff at. The tenor of this picture is far less bright. It more closely resembles Nosferatu than it does Dumbo but not without reason. Roald Dahl’s novel is likewise dark and thus the update is a better re-envisioning of the tale.
Comparing the 1971 Gene Wilder classic and the new Depp update, there are many similarities and differences but each has its place. Wilder was absolutely fantastic. It is one of his most memorable characters and a far more fatherly figure than Depp. Yet Depp adds a childishness that is far more likely in someone cooped up alone in a factory for so many years. Each one gives us a character to relish and while Depp doesn’t hold a candle to the great work of Wilder, he still creates a niche of his own.
Many of the scenes are similar in each film with a few interesting changes. Instead of geese laying eggs and declaring Veruca a bad egg, it’s now squirrels sorting good and bad nuts and making fresh judgment calls on her. There are several scenes that aren’t in the original and several scenes from the original that aren’t in the remake (such as the Slugworth rival tempting the children to steal an Everlasting Gobstopper).
The songs are not at all the same. Songwriter and actor Anthony Newley crafted the catchy and unforgettable songs for the first feature while the more acerbic Danny Elfman created new, more modern and less memorable songs for the second. Newley’s still stand the test of time. Elfman’s likely will not. However, the new songs are fun and not at all unworthy of a place in the film.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory could be compared alongside the 1971 family feature but it would be unfair to do so. Each film may be realized differently in completely different styles but both films have a place in the heart of the viewer. The new film may be more accessible to modern audiences and many families will consider it a sufficient departure from the original. But those who adore the original and dismiss Burton’s film have every right to feel that way. Neither can really be classified as better simply because they are such different films despite sharing a common source.
December 29, 2005