Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

© 2005 Ray Wong

Stars: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Deep Roy, Christopher Lee, James Fox, Missi Pyle, Annasophia Robb, Julia Winter
Director: Tim Burton
Writers: John August (based on novel by Roald Dahl)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG for strange situations, action, and mild language
Running Time: 115 minutes

Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 9
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 7
Production – 10

Total – 8.1 out of 10

While the first WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971) is considered a classic, I can’t think of anyone better to remake it than Tim Burton (BIG FISH). Burton’s quirky vision and Dahl’s quirky story fit like a jigsaw puzzle.

Charlie (Highmore) is a poor boy living just blocks away from the world’s biggest and most famous chocolate factory, owned by eccentric Willy Wonka (Depp). Charlie’s grandpa Joe (Kelly) used to work at the factory. After spies posing as workers stole his trade secrets, Willy Wonka closed the factory for many years. That is, until recently. The factory reopened without fanfare, and nobody seems to actually work there anymore.

One day, Willy Wonka announces to the world that he’s inviting five children to visit his factory. They will get a lifetime supply of chocolate, but only one will win a special prize. He’s hidden five golden tickets in his chocolate bars, and those who find the golden tickets would be become his guests. Lo and behold, Charlie finds the last of the golden tickets. He and his grandpa Joe are set for an adventure of a lifetime.

Depp (FINDING NEVERLAND) once again channels weirdness is a charming way, much like in his roles as Captain Sparrow or Edward Scissorhands. Spotting a pale face, gleaming white teeth, and a bob haircut, Depp’s Willy Wonka reminds us of yet another eccentric celebrity who surrounds himself with children. But Depp transcends the materials and characterization and makes the role his own. Despite all the weirdness and eccentricity, you believe that Willy Wonka is a kind, wonderful person -- he’s just lost in his own world. Depp also has the insight to request Highmore, his FINDING NEVERLAND co-star, to play Charlie. And we can see why. Highmore’s expressive face, soulful eyes, and disarming smile convey the deep emotions that a boy his age rarely possesses. His range is amazing, and he makes you ache for him even when he doesn’t speak a word.

The supporting cast is all wonderful. Kelly (DUTCH BIRD) is delightful and warm as Grandpa Joe. His chemistry with Highmore is incredible. Bonham-Carter (BIG FISH) and Taylor (TOMB RAIDER) are beautiful in their small respective roles as Charlie’s mother and father. Pyle (BIG FISH) and Fox (THE PRINCE AND ME) are standouts as the Mrs. Beauregarde and Mr. Salt respectively. The children play their bratty parts with glee, with standouts Robb (BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE) and newcomer Winter as Violet and Veruca respectively. Lee (STAR WARS) plays Willy Wonka’s father with creepy authority. Roy (BIG FISH) is sensational as the Oompa Loompas. You just have to see him/they to believe it.

Writer August (BIG FISH) stays fairly close to Dahl’s (JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH) book. Dahl’s stories are often whimsical, strange and extremely imaginative. By staying close to his visions, August has helped create one of the most enchanting scripts of the year. Those who are familiar with the 1971 film might find this version disorienting, because it is darker, and the ending is definitely different. Yet the theme remains one about “family” and “parenting.” The characters are often caricatures, but the good and the bad are very clear. We pretty much know how the story’s going to end from the very first frame, but the joy of this movie is not the destination, but the journey itself.

Burton’s quirky, colorful vision serves the film very well. Kudos to cinematographer Phillipe Rousselot (BIG FISH) and Burton’s production and art designers. The incredible sets and digital imageries are what make this film such eye candy. The film is lush and colorful and simply delicious to behold. Digital wizardry also allows Deep Roy to perform, individually, as an army of Oompa Loompas. At times, however, I feel that Burton could have sped up the pace -- there are places where the film drags, and the ending seems a bit anti-climatic, especially after the fantastic elevator ride. The flashbacks also slow down the adventures, even though they add layers to Willy Wonka’s character. Some of the musical numbers by the Oompa Loompas also do not work for me.

Without a doubt, Burton has hit the nail on the head with his vision of Dahl’s fabulous story. His version is distinctive and different enough from Gene Wilder’s version to stand on its own. With the stunning imageries and visual effects, stellar performances by the leads, and a story with heart and soul, this chocolate factory is a scrumptious confection for the entire family to enjoy.

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