Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

| July 17, 2005

Certain childhood memories stick with you. Especially the movies. One of my first favorites was Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) starring Gene Wilder. So when I read that there was a new version of the story of how 5 golden tickets allow entry to the world’s most secret chocolate factory, I was immediately excited. And with Johnny Depp in the main role as Wonka? Fantastic. So to be ready to review this version, I watched the original again the other night. I still loved Wilder in the main role but found the rest of it to be, well, dated and in some parts, lame. Especially the musical numbers. And don’t get me started about how much of a weenie was Charlie.
Tim Burton (Batman, Beetlejuice) must have had the same thoughts when HE watched it and decided to correct much of those parts… But he should not have messed with Wilder. While walking out of Burton’s version, all I felt was uncomfortable. In this the fourth collaboration between Burton and Depp, all I could think of was a bazaar cross between Michael Jackson and Pee Wee Herman. The beloved character was now that sadly weird uncle with who no one should leave their kids alone. I was waiting for the Moon Walk and a Santa Rosa district attorney.
Clearly Wonka has many issues. And where the 1971 version just made us believe it was because of unscrupulous competitors, this one would have us feel that Wonka was a far more troubled individual. Since this is billed as a kids movie, I should warn you that he is dealing with many issues that are not all chocolate and lollipops.
Visually, 34 years of technical industry improvement plus Tim Burton’s eye have made for a more beautiful film. Burton has a visual style. Just like other Burton films like Big Fish or Batman, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has a just-this-side-of-animation feel that makes for lots of eye candy. They even sound the same thanks to former Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman. They are not all the same, but you can see the style immediately. There are even a few homages to past Burton works like Edward Scissorhands and Batman. But I just keep thinking of that Wonka dude.
There are a few things that can be compared straight up movie for movie. Charlie is played by Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland). He is clearly better than Peter Ostrum who only ever did that first version. The other kids are pretty much a wash – same wicked personalities and they were matched up very well to the first group. I also think that this year’s Grandpa Joe (David Kelly from Waking Ned Devine) was better than Chico and the Man’s Jack Albertson. But ya know, that new Wonka character seems to be more of a wanker.
And what of the Oompa Loompas? Their individual personalities have been replaced by one man digitally reproduced. Deep Roy (Big Fish, How the Grinch Stole Christmas) does the work of hundreds of actors, making all of the mythical factory workers come to life. I enjoyed this method better than the original – even their musical numbers when each child disappears. I wonder if they saw Wonka’s bedroom on their way out of the factory?
I love Johnny Depp. I truly enjoy Burton’s work. I can’t wait for their next animated flick Corps Bride (see The Nightmare Before Christmas for style and content) which is due in a couple of months. But I hope they put Willy Wonka into therapy.

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