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 V.14 No.29 | July 21 - 27, 2005 

Film Review

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Tim Burton's remake revels in candy-coated fun

“Eat my shorts! ... They’re delicious.”
“Eat my shorts! ... They’re delicious.”

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Directed by Tim Burton

Cast: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore

In today's remake-filled world, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at least has the distinction of being a remake of Roald Dahl's classic kids' novel and not the arguably brilliant 1971 film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. That hasn't stopped some fans from casting their vehemently negative votes for the film before it even hit theaters. Given my druthers, I'd rather see energy spent on new ideas rather than old ones; but, viewed on its own merits, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a blissfully fun confection and the perfect guilt-free treat during a summer of guilty pleasures.

Master fantasist Tim Burton is clearly the only man worthy of tackling this candy-colored classic. In recent years, he's tried to shed his offbeat persona, sugar-coating his unique visions into more mainstream-digestible fare. The results (Planet of the Apes, Big Fish) have been compromised offerings at best. Thankfully, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory finds Burton back in rarefied form, building his own little worlds and reveling in fringe-dwelling freaks.

Johnny Depp returns as yet another classic Burton hero (after Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands and the bookish guy in Sleepy Hollow). Borrowing little from Gene Wilder's unhinged portrait of the master candymaker, Depp creates a loopy introvert who has indulged his every repressed childhood whim by becoming the world's oldest prepubescent. (We learn in flashback that Wonka grew up in a dentist-ruled household where candy was verboten.) Unfortunately, our hermetic hero has little concept of what kids are really like. He loves concocting imaginative candies in his chocolate factory-cum-fantasy world, but he really has no patience for the grubby little consumers of his product.

There are those who have said that Depp's portrayal is a creepy takeoff on surgically enhanced man-child Michael Jackson. Frankly, I don't see it. There's more of Howard Hughes' nutty germophobe here than there is of Jackson's soft-spoken space cadet. Depp speaks in a lispy singsong, like Carol Channing on goofballs, and wears a mock Victorian getup. His hair is ginger-colored, not black as many have said, and his pale complexion is mirrored by nearly all the characters, who look like they have an unhealthy plastic sheen about them. Whereas Wilder was blustery and mean-spirited, Depp is gentle and generally unconscious of social graces. “Everything in this room is edible,” he tells his young guests at one point. “Except the people. That is called cannibalism and it is frowned upon in most cultures.”

Storywise, you know the basic drill: A small group of kids win golden tickets to tour Wonka's legendary factory in London. Chief among these kids is poor but generous British lad Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore, who shared similar screentime with Depp in Finding Neverland). One by one, the fat, greedy, unfriendly kids are all dispatched in comic manner by Wonka's obviously OSHA-uninspected factory.

The castmembers--from Shine's Noah Taylor as Charlie's sad-sack pop to Christopher Lee as Wonka's scary dentist father--all seem custom-built for their roles. Indian-born actor Deep Roy turns in the film's most Herculean effort, playing each and every member of the diminutive Oompa-Loompa race. He's even called upon to act out several unhinged musical numbers--ranging from an all-out Esther Williams poolside production to a Beatlesesque '60s tune. (It must be noted that, while catchy, composer Danny Elfman's tunes are mixed at an indecipherably muddy sound level.)

The real star, however, is Willy Wonka's factory. From the demented “It's a Small World” joke at the front gates to a near-psychedelic encounter with a gang of nut-sorting squirrels, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory shows Burton at his most imaginative. There are those who will still find the film too dark and too weird. To which I say, “Too bad.” The film does maintain much of Dahl's witty black humor, but this updated version is far less sadistic than the original film. In fact, this ranks one of Burton's most cheerful outings. Load up on the sweets and enjoy.

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