Sunday, July 24, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Review by Sombrero Grande

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is just a big “candy” movie. At one point in the film, young Charlie Bucket remarks, “candy isn’t supposed to have a point.” It’s just fun, and so is this movie. Tim Burton’s take on Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel of the same name is super colorful, sweet, and a lot of pointless fun. It’s candy for the eyes, ears, and brain, and fortunately, nothing will “rot” from experiencing it.

Burton is the perfect director to take on the task of “reimagining” Dahl’s most famous tale. The story doesn’t need much tweaking, so he’s in the clear there, but what it does need is someone with a highly imaginative and rather quirky way of looking at things to bring the off-kilter tale to life. The visuals Burton pours into Charlie and the Chocolate Factory give the term “eye candy” a whole new definition. I’ve always said that directors who start out as animators know how to visually electrify a screen (see also Gilliam, Terry) and Burton’s peek into Charlie Bucket’s and Willy Wonka’s worlds does not disappoint. Add in another in the line of Danny Elfman’s best scores and prepare to be transported to sit-in-your-seat-and-drool nirvana. The other-worldly opening to the film is worth the price of admission alone thanks to Burton’s borderline creepy visuals married with Elfman’s not-of-this-Earth music.

In many ways, Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is superior to the ill-deserved “classic” Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. First off, Charlie is cartoonier than Willy. It doesn’t take itself as seriously. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory never makes the mistake of letting the viewers think it could take place in the real world. It’s a fairy tale and is depicted as such. The main upside of this is that when the naughty kids start getting their comeuppance, it’s funny instead of disturbing. As a small child I was rather traumatized by the way in which Willy Wonka appeared to be killing off the kids he didn’t like throughout the movie. Another move Charlie does right is, at the end, {minor spoiler} the audience actually gets to see the bad kids leaving the factory. While Willy prefers to let the audience assume that the kids were burned, “juiced,” stretched, etc. to their unpleasant demise, Charlie lets the audience know, like a magician at the end of a “saw the lady in half” trick, “They’re okay, folks! See?” One quibble here is that when we see the kids again, they don’t really appear to have learned anything from the whole debacle. Their parents have changed, but it doesn’t appear they have.

For the most part, the performances in Charlie are rather good. The kids, I thought, were all great, especially Freddie Highmore as Charlie. After working with the young actor on Finding Neverland, Johnny Depp told Burton that Highmore was just the right kid to play Charlie, and he was right. Highmore hits the character with just the right amount of innocence, earnestness, excitement, sorrow, etc., that he needs. I do have to admit, though, that Depp, who usually wows me easily, took a little getting used to in his more-than-a-little goofy take on that infamous chocolate magnate Willy Wonka. After a while he does disappear into the character, but the character still doesn’t seem to have gelled by the end of the picture. I understand he was going for an “eccentric recluse,” unaccustomed to regular social encounters, but then why does he play Wonka like a squeaky-voiced kids’ TV show host? The Oompa Loompas were also a little disappointing, and not just because of their songs. Perhaps the one thing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory did right was the Oompa Loompa song, so the new ones in Charlie, despite being written by Danny Elfman, just can’t compete. The Oompa Loompas here are all played by one guy named Deep Roy who just comes across with surprisingly little energy, even when dancing around as if possessed by a Busby Berkeley version of Tiny Town. Perhaps his face is just too stoic, but his performance just didn’t work for me or endear me to the Oompa Loompas in any way.

Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory expands on the story, adding in whole sections dealing with Willy Wonka’s past, including his relationship with his father (played magnificently by Christopher “Saruman” Lee), his motivation for starting the factory, how he discovered and hired the Oompa Loompas, etc. It was great to get this background on his character, though I do find it a little odd that the movie version entitled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory focuses a little more on Willy Wonka while Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory focuses more on Charlie. Weird, huh?

Okay, so the movie’s not likely to win any prestigious awards, change your life or give your brain a Memento-like workout; like I said, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is candy--it’s a candy movie. It’s just supposed to be fun and that’s what it is. It’s a delicious treat for your eyes and ears that won’t leave you with much afterwards, but hey, isn’t that rather fitting for a movie about candy?


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