and the Chocolate Factory. Warner
Brothers Pictures presents a film directed by Tim Burton.
Written by John August, based on the book by Roald Dahl.
Running time: 115 minutes. Rated PG (for
situations, action and mild language). Starring Freddie
Highmore, Johnny Depp, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter,
Noah Taylor, Deep Roy, Christopher Lee, Annasophia Robb,
Julia Winter, Jordon Fry, Philip Wiegratz.
and the Chocolate Factory
Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Mel Stuart's 1971 film
adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic novel, is largely an awful
film. It's filled with horrid acting and embarrassingly maudlin
musical numbers, and without Gene Wilder's bipolar tour de
force as the titular chocolatier, there would be pretty much
no reason to bother with it at all. Yet it has become a sort
of modern children's classic. I'm not sure why.
neither is Tim Burton, who, with Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory, has set out to make a more faithful adaptation
of the novel (note the correct title). Burton, film's poet
laureate of the bizarre, would seem to be an ideal choice;
and indeed, it turns out, he is. Several moments in Stuart's
film match the book's undercurrent of darkness - most notably
Wilder's performance and that terrifying acid-trip boat ride
(which, come to think of it, is mostly scary for Wilder's
vocal inflections) - but it is, on the whole, pretty dull.
Wonka's factory is a fantastical place, a whole different
world unto itself; of the two films, only Burton's is able
to capture the correct sense of wonder.
the opening moments of the film, it is clear that we are not
in the "real world" in any practical sense. Burton's
London is a cold, mechanical place; all the buildings are
chrome, shaped the same and alligned in rows. That is, all
the buildings except for Charlie Bucket's house, a slanted,
run-down shanty whose design seems to defy all laws of architecture.
It's an incredible image, and it serves to effectively establish
its residents as hopelessly poor.
played here by Finding Neverland's Freddie Highmore,
really seems to be a starving, impoverished child. Unlike
the earlier film's shiny, golden-haired cherub, this Charlie
is gaunt, ashen and frail. He loves Willy Wonka's Chocolate,
but his family can only afford to get him one every year.
From here, we all know how the story plays out; the reclusive
Wonka (Johnny Depp) announces contest to allow five children
into his factory. Eventually, Charlie finds one and goes with
his Grandpa Joe (David Kelly). During the tour, the other,
terrible children fall victim to various pitfalls, leaving
Charlie as the only remaining child, at which point he recieves
a special prize.
is not particularly interested in narrative cohesion - it's
a pretty thin plot to begin with, anyway. Instead, he intricately
crafts the interior of the factory, room by room and set-piece
by set-piece. His bizarre visual creations are among the most
original images to hit theaters this year; the ill-fated children
look creepily inhuman, with shallow eyes and plastic skin;
the Oompa-Loompas, all played by one actor (Deep Roy) shrunk
and copied with computer effects, perform ornate musical numbers
that range in style from Beatle-esque rock balladry to Bollywood
would be hard to live up to the original interpretation of
Wonka, so Depp doesn't even bother. Rather than trying to
fill Wilder's sizable shoes, he lights the damn shoes on fire
and just goes nuts. His is a Wonka more scared of children
than they are of him, one prone to absurd non-sequiturs ("Everything
in this room is edible - even me, although that is called
cannibalism and is looked down upon in some societies")
and creepy giggles. People have tried to compare Depp's performance
to Wilder's, but that's a meaningless exercise; they are so
different as to almost be different characters.
hidden behind is false smile and squeaky voice, Depp manages
to invest the character with some actual depth. Through a
subplot new to the story, Burton and screenwriter John August
attempt to explain Wonka's eccentric behavior; and although
the flashbacks only occasionally work, Depp's passive-aggressiveness
and his inability to even say the word "parents"
grounds the character in some sort of emotional reality.
Charlie leaves the factory, following an exhilarating sequence
with Wonka's glass elevator, the film starts to lose steam;
the other children are shown leaving the factory, eliminating
the possibility - left open by both the book and previous
film - that their mishaps proved fatal, thereby draining the
film of some of its darkness. Even worse, we get what amounts
to a sermon on the importance of family, an unfortunate -
and uncharacteristic - detour into the maudlin.
these missteps seem more damning than they perhaps are, it's
only because the rest of the film avoids them so deftly. When
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory works, it's a magical,
slyly subversive family entertainment; when it doesn't...
well, at least it's still better than the other one.
2005 Matt Noller, not that anyone would ever want to steal