July 17 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory mini-review

Based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tells the tale of young Charlie Bucket and his adventures, through a brief time in his life, where he is thrust into a wonderous world of fancy.

I am sure most, if not all of you, are familiar with the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory , which was also based on the book, but that one did detour from the source material more than the current version. So while you are familiar with the basics of the story, this is not the same film.

Gone are some of the sillier bits from the first film about the kids being told to steal the Everlasting Gobstoppers, there are no fuzzy bubbling drinks that make you fly towards a dangerous ventilation fan and gone are the Oompa Loompa songs that don’t properly match the book. Corrected bits include the fore mentioned songs, Veruca’s encounter with squirrels as opposed to golden egg laying geese, the origin of the Oompa Loompa’s is actually shown and thankfully the boat ride down the chocolate river is much more spot-on. There was a new sub-plot added in the form of Willy Wonka’s relationship with his father, which was actually welcome as it helps explain the eccentric candy maker a bit more.

Setting all that aside though, how is the movie itself as a film? It is a ride through some of the familiar, but never-tiring, corners of Tim Burton’s imagination. His customary obsession with stripes, swirls (especially those of the black & white variety) and doors with odd angles abound. I have discovered over the years that there are two kinds of people in the world:Tim Burton lovers and Tim Burton haters, there hardly seems to be any middle ground. Speaking as one of the lovers, this movie thrilled me to no end. After the horrendous mis-step that was Planet of the Apes, it was a delight to see Tim return to himself.

While the story has always been about Charlie (played wonderfully by youngster Freddie Highmore), the character everyone always remember the most in any version of this story is the choclatier, Willy Wonka. Tim Burton favorite Johnny Depp steps into this role and delivers a creepy, unsettling version of the character that, quite frankly, makes you wonder if he shouldn’t be locked away in an asylum. Depp delivers a naunced tour de force of a man who can express child-like wonderment one moment, and a manical twinkle in his eye next as the children recieve their just deserts. You feel pity, contempt and amazement towards this character, sometimes all in the span of a minute.

Let us not neglect the child actors in this movie though, where Tim Burton came up with this crop of young thespians is amazing. From Freddie Highmore’s understated, endearing performance, the the over-the-top, creepy, plastic performance of first time professional actress, Julia Winter as Veruca Salt. All the children shine and deliver their parts with that of actors many years their seniors.

Most shocking to me was the music. I love Danny Elfman, really I do, but I can also spot a Danny Elfman musical score from about 20 miles away. Considering he has scored every Tim Buton movie since Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, I figured it would the same familiar notes we are so used to from him. Waiter! Please bring me my plate of crow when you have a moment. Danny delivers unbelivably wide range of musical styles just in the Oompa Loompa songs that is fascinating. Each one is unique-on-to-itself, and all of them a pleasure to hear.

Honestly, I could go on for hours about this one I was so happy. From the look of the four “evil” children (notice they have an almost plastic sheen to their faces, broadcasting their fakeness to the world), to the music, to set design to the acting, this is a joyous ride of pure fancy and delight. I give it my highest possible recommendation which anymore, does not come does not come lightly.

A word of warning though, like the book, this really a very, very dark tale of morality. I will be surprised if it doesn’t disturb a few children. To be honest though, if it disturbs them, it is probably a good thing, because who wants their child to grow up to be Violet?

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