REVIEW SUMMARY: A fun family movie.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Charlie, a poor kid with a heart-of-gold, wins a trip into the chocolate factory of quirky recluse Willy Wonka along with four other not-so-nice kids.
PROS: Entertaining story; strong performances.
CONS: Annoying musical numbers; weak ending.
BOTTOM LINE: Leave your prejudices at home and just enjoy this fun movie.
I went with the extended family to see Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory based on the book by Roald Dahl. Although I never read the book, I’ve seen the original adaptation (1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka and, being a thirtysomething, I’m a big fan of that older movie. And being me, I went in with the usual pessimistic what-the-heck-do-they-need-a-remake-for attitude. (Side note: In retrospect of this and all movie-going [and reading] experiences, I find that this pessimistic approach usually means a more pleasant entertainment experience when all is said and done. It’s easier to have high hopes dashed than it is to meet low expectations. I tend to approach life that way, too. But that’s another story destined to be told while I’m lying on a couch. But I digress…) (Another side note: I really dislike using the overused phrase “but I digress” but it just fit so well. Uh-oh…digressing again.)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the story of a poor boy named Charlie and how he becomes the winner of one of five Golden Tickets distributed across the world by the reclusive chocolate maker Willy Wonka. Ticket winners get to visit the long-closed factory with one of them winning an unnamed prize. Charlie takes his grandpa who used to work at the factory. Other winners include portly Augustus Gloop, the violence-loving Mike Teevee, spoiled rich girl Veruca Salt, and the snobby gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde.
The first thing that caught my eye about the movie was the signature Tim Burton look and feel accompanied by the musical score from Burton-favorite Danny Elfman. It feels like a Tim Burton movie from start to finish, which is to say it’s filled with some dark scenes and lots of quirky characters.
The quirkiest has to be Willy Wonka played by Johnny Depp, an actor who seems very comfortable with quirky roles. (See Pirates of the Carribean.) Depp, with his ashen face and outfitted with a set of perfect teeth, plays Wonka like a child who hasn’t grown up which is to say that he is impatient, sometimes rude and easily distracted. I was concerned that I was not going to like his characterization but it turned out to be a hoot! He did an excellent job.
Young Charlie, too, is immediately likable as the poor boy with the heart of gold and his character mostly takes backstage to Wonka and the other kids when the story moves to the factory. Charlie lives in a small, architecturally-challenged house with his parents and his four bedridden grandparents. His yearly birthday gift is a Willy Wonka chocolate bar. But this year, he has high hopes that the bar will contain a Golden Ticket. These early scenes were great and the little touches of their hovel (like the seriously askew doorways) had me smiling the whole time.
Other characters were the expected stereotypical bad boys and girls. I might mention that the girl that played Veruca (Julia Winter) bears a remarkable and nostalgic resemblance to the 1971 Veruca (Julie Dawn Cole). All the children were very capable actors.
One of the things that annoyed me, though, were the musical numbers played whenever one of the kids went too far and met with an…unusual…fate. Not that I was expecting the cutesy Oompa-Loompa numbers from the older movie version, but these songs got on my nerves. Each of the songs differed in musical style; rap, rock, easy listening. All but the first one (when Augustus leans too far into the river of chocolate) was annoying.
(Speaking of Oompa-Loompas, they were all played by the same actor [Deep Roy] and CGI’d to look about two feet tall. This was great except that his resemblance to an ex-coworker of mine made every sequence with them kind of creepy.)
Being a fan of the 1971 version, it’s hard not to compare them, so I won’t bother trying to avoid it. The movies were similar in more ways that they were different. On of the differences was the sequence of flashbacks into Willy Wonka’s childhood. (Insert obligatory Burton Halloween scene here.) Christopher Lee played Wonka’s father, a dentist who forbade him to eat chocolate. Of course, young Willie manages to sneak chocolate but it eventually drives his father away, house included, leaving Willie with a serious parent complex.
Another difference with the original movie version (although, I understand, more true to the source material) was the ending. The original movie’s ending seemed more dramatic with the buildup of the special glass elevator button and the genuine caring Gene Wilder’s Wonka felt for Charlie and his family. Burton’s Wonka lacked compassion for family (no surprise considering his past) and did not understand Charlie’s choice of family over the prize Wonka offers him. Eventually Wonka learns the value of family, but overall, the original movie ending seemed more heart-warming.
One final comparison to be made is in Gene Wilder’s Wonka versus Johnny Depp’s Wonka. Both actors play the character well but they also played them differently – different enough to make comparison’s moot (think apples and oranges). I liked both performances equally.
Fans of the first adaptation will probably not like this one better, but Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a very entertaining film in its own right.