Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)Rated PG for quirky situations, action and mild language.
Starring Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Missi Pyle, James Fox, Deep Roy, Christopher Lee.
LVJeff's Rating: 8/10
Photo ©Warner Bros. Pictures. All rights reserved.
Tastes Like Candy
Here's a "go figure" puzzle for you. In 1971, Mel Stuart and company filmed an adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but decided to name it Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. And although Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka was the movie's main draw, much of the focus stayed on the story's protagonist, Charlie (played by Peter Ostrum). Now, in 2005, Tim Burton and company have adapted the book again, and this time they've kept the original name, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But this one feels less like it's about Charlie (Freddie Highmore) than it is about its own main draw, Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka.
Yet, Burton has said that his version remains closer to the book than the 1971 version. Since I haven't read the book I can't say one way or the other. What I do know is that Willy Wonka was (and likely still is) a beloved childhood classic for many movie fans; thus, the desire for a remake feels unjustified. I, personally, don't like the idea of remakes, period -- and yet I can see this one as reasonable. I've read that Dahl himself was unhappy with the 1971 version. Also, having seen the original myself for the first time only recently (yes, unbelievable, I've been told), I thought the material had greater potential than the filmmakers were able to realize at the time. In this decade, a director with a strong vision could make a new, grand spectacle out of this stuff.
And so one has. Burton's just the man to tackle this crazy fantasy world. It fits right in with his usual themes -- stories about kooky reclusives who toe the fine line between genius and insanity, living in a kinetic world of grotesque characters whose interactions with the protagonist create a fascinating dance-of-the-lunatics dynamic. His version of Willy Wonka is the latest in that line, and how appropriate it is that he's played by Burton's star player, Depp.
Depp's Willy Wonka is, of course, insular -- he's detached and childlike. He's also a real hoot. Depp doesn't play the character up as some kind of knowing grand master of ceremonies; instead, his portrait is more of an obsessive, paranoid type who happens to be able to back up any of his claims with his success. One gets the idea that much of his good work comes as a result of his battling his insecurities. The fun comes not only from watching the character's comedic weirdo-ness, but from being able to see how much Depp relishes playing these kinds of characters. Depp is among only a very few people who make me believe in how much they love acting -- and not just acting, but play-acting. And this philosophy feels right at home in the Wonka-verse.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a fabulous indulgence, which is somewhat at odds with its humility-centered morality, but when given the opportunity to create this world, who could resist? The production design is among the best of Burton's films, with each new environment fulfilling its duties in enhancing the fairy tale setting. Colors are stark and the photography is playful. With Depp's character fitting right in and ultimately taking control of the mood of the film, one might feel it's all style for style's sake. But when one of the bad kids complains that nothing in the factory has a point, and Charlie replies, "Candy doesn't have to have a point," he was probably referring to the movie as well.
If the movie has a glaring problem, it would be the aforementioned focus shift from Charlie to Willy Wonka -- as big a personality as Willy Wonka is, he really should be there as a means to emphasize Charlie's goodness. Here, Willy Wonka even gets a backstory (which I read was invented for this movie), and it paves the way to another Burton trademark -- his trouble at getting his movies to end well. There's a bit of story to go after the factory visit, and the momentum drains considerably. The whole thing eventually fits together, though, and thankfully there's enough in the film -- the imagery, the exaggerated characters, and the comedy -- to make up for its problems. So break out the singing puppets and call out the Oompa Loompas, because the quirky fun team of Burton and Depp is back, and that is cause for celebration.
©Jeffrey Chen, Jul. 11, 2005