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MOVIE REVIEW: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

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.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

8 Comments on MOVIE REVIEW: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

  1. I saw this movie this weekend as well, and I felt that there were several incidents where I felt it was too similar to the earlier version. The musical numbers were different indeed and could have been left out in most cases, but the kids there really liked them. The general consensus was that this movie was a nice updated adaptation of the story and well liked. I still felt that perhaps there was a bit of one-upsmanship going on, but I did like the movie. There were several fantastic lines from Depp, and while he is a bit strange – I think he is a top notch actor….

  2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

  3. My 4-year-old is a HUGE Wonka fan at the moment, so I’ve seen both movies many times lately. :-S I’ve also read the book to him, and had read both of the original Dahl books many times before.

    I’m a purist; I like movies that are faithful to the books on which they’re supposedly based. That makes me one of the very few people who dislikes The Lord of the Rings movies, for example.

    In this case, I’m honestly torn. Both movies are faithful to the books in some ways, and not in others – but in *different* ways.

    Take the character of Willy Wonka himself. He’s a small man, looking almost Chinese (as described in the sequel, “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator”), with enormous amounts of energy – he moves in quick little jerks like a squirrel. And he’s almost constantly giggling or laughing. Most of his sentences end with an exclamation point, in the book – which can be very tiring to read aloud; there are a LOT of exclaimations throughout both books. They’re very high-energy.

    Wilder’s Wonka had the basic cheerfulness from the book, but was more languid; Willy Wonka on ‘ludes. Depp’s Wonka was frankly a surprise, particularly because I’m a big fan of Johnny Depp. He was NOTHING like the Wonka in the book, not at all. Of course, some of this was due to the whole grafted-on father/flashback plot in the new movie.

    The Wilder movie also had a major plot element which wasn’t in the original book (SPOILER WARNING): Wonka’s testing of Charlie and the other children with a fake Slugworth. But that wasn’t out of line with the original idea, since Wonka invited the children to the factory to test them and decide which one should be his heir.

    (Since the Wilder screenplay is credited to Dahl, I assume that he was responsible for that addition.)

    The Wonka father plot of the new film, however, is in no way derived from the books. There’s never any hint about the origin of Wonka, and he certainly shows no sign of having a problem with parents or fathers.

    “Another difference with the original movie version (although, I understand, more true to the source material) was the ending.”

    That’s why I’m writing this; if I understand what you’re saying, you got it exactly backwards. The ending of the Wilder movie was MUCH more faithful to the book. The Depp movie was not.

    Another substantial change that Burton made was to the character of Mike Teavee. In the book, Mike Teavee was a violent, gangster-loving gun-and-violence nut (he carried 17 toy guns at all times). Occasionally he asked a mildly perceptive (or obnoxious) question, but he certainly did not “crack” the system that Wonka used to distribute Golden Tickets – the whole idea of a system didn’t even come up, in the book.

    The reason that I mention this is that this addition by Tim Burton actually contradicts the very point that Dahl wanted to make with the Mike Teavee character; TV seems to have made Burton’s Teavee smarter, since he was the only one who could crack a system that presumably everyone else in the world was trying to decode.

    Some elements of the Depp movie were more faithful to the book, of course; the squirrels, for example, rather than the golden-egg-laying geese. Likewise the pink viking-style boat. The lyrics for the Oompa Loompa songs were virtually all taken from the original text, unlike those in the Wilder movie, which were entirely original. Although I was surprised to see that about 90% or more of the words for each Elfman song had been eliminated, and the rest had been rearranged from their order in the book in many cases.

    I’ve gone on for too long here, I’m sure. So let me close with two points. First, great though Johnny Depp is, to my mind this is the first real failure he’s had as an actor; his Wonka is nothing like the character in the book, being more like a creepy cross between his Ed Wood and Michael Jackson. This was almost certainly Burton’s fault rather than Depp’s, though, since it was apparently made necessary by the father-plot addition.

    Lastly, I’d urge you to read the original book, if you can. It’s a classic for a reason. And it’s one of those rarities that’s as enjoyable for an adult as for a child.

  4. Thanks for your comments, Peter, and on the ending, thanks for the clarification. Since this review, I’ve read the book with my daughter and we both enjoyed it immensely. Also, coincidence of coincidences, we caught the Wilder movie on Tivo just yesterday; I was surprised to see Dahl credited with the screenplay, and it made the differences from the book somehow “justified”. It was fun, too, to note the choices made in deviating from the book.

  5. Anonymous // March 25, 2007 at 1:24 pm //

    I have that movie, IT ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:-@:D(H)

  6. Both of the willy wonka versions was interesting and you would be amazed how both of them are diffrent in ways and and have simmilarities but when there’s an old movie and producers wait til years have past by to release the new version it gets real interesting and more people enjoy it. And i would give two thumbs up but i dont wont to let go of my popcorn bucket.


  7. Anonymous // March 8, 2008 at 12:54 pm //

    :)veruca salt is my biggist fan I love her

  8. “I’m a purist; I like movies that are faithful to the books on which they’re supposedly based. That makes me one of the very few people who dislikes The Lord of the Rings movies, for example.”

    Peter,  while I agree with your assessment of the the Wonka movies, I disagree with the idea you could be a purist about The Lord Of The Rings.  Tolkien was always editing his work, right up until his death.  Each version of his books from the original printing, until his end, had been revised and had differences that were easily noticed.  If you are talking from the standpoint of being a purist about the very first printing of each book, then so be it.  Since I doubt you have a collection of rare first additions of his work, I am assuming you mean the movie deviated from his books in a general sense.  Given that the author was never satisfied with his own work, to the point he would stop editing it, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to assume he’d be about as happy with the movies as he was his own books.  His family was happy with the movies and that should be enough for you.  Given that it apparently is not, I’ll assume your status of “purist” is more for show, as Tolkien is one of the few that being a purist about, makes absolutely no sense.

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