Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

9 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a film adaptation of the well-known Roald Dahl children’s book of the same name, as well as a remake of the well-known 1971 children’s classic, entitled “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” It’s also an easy movie to review—everything in this movie works except for Willy Wonka, the magical tour guide who was a huge part of the magic in the original 1971 film. While Gene Wilder played him as welcoming, winning, magical, though maybe somewhat deranged, Johnny Depp, playing Wonka in this new version, is just…awkward. Depp plays him all over the place, but there is just no sense of magic with the way he portrays Willy Wonka. He’s not charismatic; he’s uncomfortable and creepy. Wonka is supposed to tour five kids into his wondrous chocolate factory. I’m just glad the parents are there with the kids before the crazy stuff happens to them (more on that later)—especially since their tour guide is a…weirdo.

That’s not to say Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka in the original wasn’t weird, but at least that was part of his edge. Sure, he was mysterious, but he could be kind when he needed to be and fun to be around. Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka is not only annoying, but also somewhat psychotic in the way that his motives are never quite clear.

But strangely, even if Johnny Depp’s performance doesn’t work, there are many more elements of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” that do. They help me give the movie a mild recommendation.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” centers around a little boy named Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore, who previously co-starred with Depp in “Finding Neverland”) whose family is so poor that they have cabbage for dinner every night, all four grandparents sleep and live in the same bed, and there’s a large hole in the ceiling of Charlie’s upstairs bedroom, open to cold weather. Oh, and the house is slanted. He lives in the town where Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory is located—as the story goes, no one goes in and no one comes out. But what goes on in that factory? Who’s working there?

Well, it turns out that five children will get the chance to find out the answers to those questions if they find golden tickets inside Wonka chocolate bars. The first four kids who find it each have serious character flaws—one never stops eating, one is rich, bratty, and spoiled, one is overly obsessed with winning (even chewing a piece of gum for three months for a world record), and one is obsessed with video games and TV. Charlie gets the last ticket, though not without suspense.

That’s the first half-hour of the movie, and then all five kids, each bringing a legal guardian (Charlie brings his feisty Grandpa Joe), arrive at the factory, only to be welcomed by the strange Willy Wonka who will serve as their tour guide. When he first arrives, he’s reading his greeting from cue cards and acts uncomfortable when the kids say “hi” to him. Kind of rude for someone who sends out tickets inviting people to visit inside his top-secret factory.

It turns out the factory is a dream come true. There’s a room that is like a candy wonderland—it’s a meadow made entirely out of sweets. Everything is edible, even the grass and river (which is made entirely out of chocolate and churned by a waterfall). The inventing room is full of strange inventions and neat little tricks all around. There are squirrels that are specially trained to test walnuts. And even more strange, wonderful stuff is seen. “Why is everything here completely pointless,” one of the kids rudely asks. Charlie calmly replies, “Candy doesn’t have to have a point. That’s why it’s candy.” Truer words couldn’t be spoken about this place.

Charlie is a good kid—honest, sincere, nice, and true to his heart. But the other four kids’ flaws get the better of them in this factory. With each stop, one of these kids gets a comeuppance. The fat kid drinks from the chocolate river and winds up in the filtration system after falling in—he shouldn’t have been greedy. The other kids suffer worse fates they had coming due to their flaws, but they still make it out alive so they can learn from their experiences. So the message is as clear, as in the original version—be kind and patient, and one day you’ll be rewarded. That’s how Charlie wins the big prize at the end, which I won’t spoil in this review, if you haven’t seen the original version already.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was directed by Tim Burton, who specializes in weirdness/quirkiness. As is the case with most of his movies, the movie looks incredible. Even before we go inside Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, the everyday modern world is neat in the way the settings/surroundings are exaggerated to look like an illustrated fairy tale. The outside of the factory seen from behind a large gate, the young protagonist’s slanted little house, even the candy stores—all of these locations/sets are fun to look at. And that’s just the first thirty minutes of the movie. Inside the factory, later, we get more visual treats. The candy room is a pure delight. Everything looks edible, and you really want to just fly into the screen and join the experience. The chocolate river, in particular, looks especially realistic. And there are more visual treats as the movie (and factory tour) goes along.

The story gets deeper with Wonka’s back-story—how Wonka became who he is now and why he apparently has a “parent” complex. We never even saw a back-story in the original version. That’s because we didn’t need one—the character was already as interesting as he could be without being the main focus of the story, which is Charlie. However, while it may not be necessary, there needs to be at least some saving grace from Johnny Depp’s awkward performance.

And I’m sorry, I keep coming back to how uncharismatic this Willy Wonka is. What’s really surprising is that Johnny Depp playing the role sounds like it would be great. This should have been the high point of the movie, or at least one of them. But I have no idea what he’s doing with this performance. How can you not think of Michael Jackson crossed with Marilyn Manson when watching him? That’s not a welcome combination, and I don’t care who I’m talking to with this review.

But like I said, everything else in the movie works. The movie looks great, the story is well-executed, and the other actors do competent jobs. Freddie Highmore is likable and sweet as Charlie, David Kelly is wonderful as Grandpa Joe, and the other four kids—Julia Winter, AnnaSophia Robb, Jordan Fry, and Philip Wiegratz—are good comic actors.

OH! I cannot believe I forgot to mention something else I liked in this movie—the Oompa-Loompas, the race of strange, little men (all of which played by Deep Roy) who are the workers of the factory. Whenever one of the kids gets into trouble in the factory, there they are to sing songs about their fate. Their musical numbers come out of nowhere and are as weird and fun as the singing waiters in “The Polar Express.” These sequences are very delightful.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a nice fantasy film, despite Johnny Depp’s awkward performance. Just about everything else in this movie works well and are enough for me to rate it three stars. I gave the original film four stars, and that was made more than thirty years before this one. At least that version had a more charismatic tour guide for the chocolate factory.

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