“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is like the everlasting gobstopper it so gleefully describes. It never loses it flavor and gets a little dangerous. Director Tim Burton and his favorite muse, the awesomely talented Johnny Depp, hit the honey pot with their version of the Roald Dahl beloved children’s book. This accomplishment is no easy feat. Gene Wilder immortalized the character of Willy Wonka in the classic 1970 film adaptation; to say that Depp had big shoes to fill is an understatement. Comparisons would inevitably be drawn between the two films and remakes rarely live up to the original. Here is an exception. Burton and Depp strike the perfect balance between paying tribute and being creative. They add a different, more complex tone to the film without losing anything. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is quite simply, wonderful; a brilliantly imagined story that will win old fans and new fans alike.
Freddie Highmore, reuniting with Depp from “Finding Neverland”, plays the good hearted Charlie. He lives with his parents and both sets of grandparents in a shack near Willy Wonka’s massive factory. They’re dirt poor with holes in their mittens and cabbage soup for every dinner. Each night, Charlie listens to his Grandpa Joe (David Kelly) tell him of working in the great candy factory before Willy Wonka shut it down. Competitors had stolen his secrets and everyone lost their jobs. But soon the factory started running again with seemingly no new workers. Willy Wonka vanished from sight and became a great mystery. Then comes the stunning declaration that Willy Wonka will allow five extremely lucky children a day’s visit to his factory. The children would be picked by winning a golden ticket hidden in a Wonka chocolate bar. Four spoiled and rotten youngsters, Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregard, and Mike Teavee claim the golden tickets. Charlie has almost given up hope when he wins the final ticket. The five children meet in front of the factory gate for their tour with the mysterious Willy Wonka. Who has also promised an incredible prize to the child he deems most worthy.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s success is due to the parts adding up perfectly. Everything clicks together so well. The production design is amazing, gigantic sets dripping with detail. The characters wear these goofy costumes and are plastered in make-up to reflect the artificial candy look of the film. Danny Elfman’s score, along with the hilarious Oompa Loompa songs, flawlessly meshes with the action on screen. Tim Burton gets the lion’s share of credit for orchestrating everything. He had a unique vision for this story and really does a magnificent job realizing it. Burton has directed some terrible films in recent years, who could forget “Planet of the Apes”, but returns to his early career brilliance with this film. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory easily rivals “Beetlejuice” and “Edward Scissorhands” as his best work. Burton proves that he’s still got what it takes to make a great movie.
Johnny Depp takes the character of Willy Wonka and makes it his own. He plays him as a spectacularly bizarre genius incapable of normal behavior. Willy Wonka has been cooped up inside his factory for twenty years. There are some very funny scenes where he has to refer to flash cards to hold a simple conversation. Without revealing too much, the main difference between this film and the 70’s version is the addition of a back story about Wonka’s childhood. It gives him a lot more depth and we can see why he became the man he is. I thought the flashback scenes were cleverly done and defined his motivations. Depp continues to prove he’s one of the best. It’s tragic that he’s never won any major awards for his work. He continually pushes himself as an actor and the role of Willy Wonka is a prime example.
I was surprised by how heartfelt and honest the movie was. It delivers a good message and does it in an entertaining, different way. There are going to be some people who will criticize the film for its dark tone. Yes, it is much darker than the other film but is also a lot funnier. It has an edge to it and that’s a part of the charm. Every good children’s story has a part that gets a little creepy. I think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is balanced in its approach. It’s a great film on every level and not to be missed in the theater.