At first thought, the prospect of Tim Burton helming an updated version of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory seems like a slam dunk. I mean, who else could really tackle the material of the Roald Dahl book and thus make it his own? Add to this that Johnny Depp was to play the role of Willy Wonka and you have endless possibilities as to what this new incarnation of the famed classic film could be. Sadly, it is here that I think Charlie & The Chocolate Factory has it's biggest problems. What often is a magically done tale about a boy having his dreams come true, and in the process he helps another person live their life more, seems marred by the inconsistent performance of Johnny Depp. So much of this movie is infused with the brilliance of Tim Burton. The stylized storytelling, the lyrical feel that pervades the film, the constant theme of someone able to offer the world great things but at the same time is duly unable to reconcile who he is within that world. It isn't that I think that Depp is bad in this role, I just felt that he was given so much creative license with the character, that it appears he took his reimagining of Willy Wonka a little bit too far. Oftentimes, he was too condescending. Too out there. He seemed to be a hurt soul, who lost his humanity and only decided to do something about it when the money for his candy confections stopped coming in. Again, Johnny Depp playing this role is a no brainer, he has worked with Burton on other films and they have a familiar rhythm... I just wish that Burton would have reined in Depp more, and kept him more aligned with his vision of what this film seems desperately trying to be.
Freddie Highmore does a very commendable job with the role of Charlie Bucket. He brings a vulnerability to this role that you almost have to root for him to succeed. Highmore has a presence on screen that seems to almost recall a young Ron Howard. Augustus Gloop is played a bit over the top by Philip Wiegratz. Personally, I enjoyed the restrained portrayal of this character in the first film. Wiegratz does a passable job, it's just that he was so frenetic, and so overdone (as far as the eating was concerned) that it was oftentimes hard to really understand what he was saying. Julia Winter is the perfect nightmare in the thankless role of Veruca Salt. She plays this character as such a witch of a girl, that you are giddily happy when she is done in by a pack of angry squirrels. Violet Beauregarde is played by AnnaSophia Robb. She is good in this role but I felt she was a lite version of Veruca Salt. I never was able to really grab onto this character, and it never seemed like Robb was allowed to make Violet her own. Jordan Fry is solidly cast as Mike Teavee. He looks and acts exactly how you might expect a hyper, know it all gamer to act. None of the kids are really bad in their roles, I just feel that some stood out more then others. The parents of the children all turn in solid performances, and never seem to waver in the face Willy Wonka's weird, private world. Yet, there is a sad beauty to it and I just wish Wonka hadn't played it so "different" all the time. We as viewers get the fact that we are essentially dealing with a big kid, and it seems like too much effort was given to make us keep realizing this.
My only other bone of contention with this movie are the songs. What in the world was Danny Elfman thinking? The music he offers is just not up to his usual standards. On top of this, I think he would have been better served not to have followed the book as faithfully as he did. I do have to admit that I am not someone who likes musicals, so maybe I was just predisposed to not like these songs, but I just found that the musical numbers wore me out. I am not saying that I was that big a fan of the songs in the original movie, but I was almost embarrassed listening to these new songs. They just didn't work for me. Sadly, a decent amount of this movie seems very solid. It is just those moments when things don't work, that leave the biggest mark of all. That said, seeing the Oompa Loompa's (all played by actor Deep Roy) perform these numbers is something to marvel at. When you realize that Roy performed all these roles within the scene this might be enough to make you forget the music that underlines it. I don't usually go for dance numbers in movies, but these are so interestingly done I couldn't help but be impressed.
I want to end this review on a positive note because I think I have been pretty specific about the parts of the film I didn't like. As I have said, this movie is a Tim Burton film. I am a huge fan of his work so I can honestly say that I like this movie and would recommend it to other people. I might give them a few disclaimers beforehand, but I would recommend it nonetheless. There is such a strong vision behind the look of this film. The visuals are like none you have ever seen before. From the scene of the chocolate castle that Willy Wonka is commissioned to build, to the huge spectacle that is Wonka's Candy Factory, to the subtle moments like when we first see Augustus Gloop. He almost looks animated. I know that a lot of this movie was created in the computer, but it is pulled off in such a rich way that I couldn't help but be very impressed by that aspect of it.
Lastly, I don't know that this movie is for me. I think Burton and Co. might have inadvertently been aiming for a younger audience. This may leave me out and I think that's a shame, but if he wanted to appeal to kids it seems like he has done just that. How do I know this? Well, when I saw this movie in the theater it seemed like the kids were laughing the hardest. And then when I asked my friend what movie her 7 year old son wanted to see the most this summer (and this child is very smart, mind you) she said none other then Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. Personally, I don't know if it matters what I write because I think this movie is most likely critic proof.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is out July 13, 2005.