Friday, July 22, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory / ***½ (PG)

Willy Wonka: Johnny Depp
Charlie Bucket: Freddie Highmore
Grandpa Joe: David Kelly
Mrs. Bucket: Helena Bonham Carter
Mr. Bucket: Noah Taylor
Mrs. Beauregarde: Missi Pyle
Mr. Salt: James Fox
Oompa Loompa: Deep Roy
Veruca Salt: Julia Winter
Violet: Annasophia Robb
Mike Teavee: Jordan Fry
Augustus Gloop: Philip Wiegratz
Dr. Wonka: Christopher Lee

Warner Brothers Pictures presents a film directed by Tim Burton. Based on the book by Roald Dahl. Running time: 115 minutes. Rated PG (for quir! ky situations, action and mild language).

My almost 4 year-old son described the difference between the 70’s Gene Wilder starring Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and the new Johnny Depp starring Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as such, “In the (earlier) one Willy Wonka was a man, but in this one he was a girl.” However, I don’t think Depp would be disappointed by this perception of my son’s, since I believe I overheard him stating in an interview that he based his performance on a prepubescent girl.

Dueling Willy Wonkas aside, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an extravagant exploration of the imaginations of both director Tim Burton and its creator Roald Dahl. This is not Burton’s first journey into Dahl’s likeminded imagination, he produced the underrated animated feature of Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, and there doesn’t seem to be any better material on the planet suited to Burton’s unique cinematic imaginings. Theirs are a world of bright bold colors, bug-eyed children, little dancing and singing men, flying glass elevators, black and white social stature, the bridging of young an old, and the delightful love of candy.

Charlie is a boy filled with the wild-eyed wonder of a child embodied by the newest young talent Freddie Highmore, brought along from the film Finding Neverland by co-star Depp. Charlie comes from a poor family. The Buckets are the archetypal lower class family. Mr. Bucket (Noah Taylor, Vanilla Sky) is a factory worker whose job is eliminated by a machine. Mrs. Bucket (Helena Bonham Carter, Big Fish) struggles to make yet another night of cabbage stew bearable. All four grandparents roost in a single bed in the middle of the Bucket’s shack of a house; one has lost her marbles, one is hoarding his, and Grandpa Joe (David Kelly, Waking Ned Divine) dreams of better days when he worked with the oddball magician candy maker Willy Wonka.

Wonka had long ago shut the doors of his factory to both the public and his employees because of the vicious tactics of corporate spies stealing the secrets to his candies. He has somehow kept the factory running, and after years of seclusion Wonka suddenly announces a contest that will allow five children (and a guardian each) to see the inside of his mysterious chocolate factory. All a child has to do for this rare privilege is find one of five golden tickets hidden in the wrapper of a bar of Wonka chocolate. Charlie sees this contest as an opportunity to relive his Grandpa’s dreams of the past and realize the dreams of his own and his family to rise above the squalor of their poverty.

While the movie still focuses firmly on Charlie and his struggle to break the chains of his social standing, screenwriter John August (Charlie’s Angels) also adds a great deal of backstory on Wonka to bring another level of familial meaning to the tale. Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean) drives the mood of the film with another typically odd performance. Not content with just presenting Wonka’s world as merely a product of absurdity, Depp and Burton turn Wonka into an oddity of bundled repression, a child that refuses to face the scars of growing up. Throughout the course of the film Wonka is accosted by flashbacks from his childhood of his father (Christopher Lee, Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones), a dentist who coldly allows his son none of the sweet nectars of candy, especially chocolate.

All of the elements of the book are here: the horrible cast of children who win the other four tickets and their equally deplorable parents, the many different worlds of creation that go on behind the door of the magnificent chocolate factory, and the singing little men -- the Oompa Loompas. Instead of the orange-faced little people of the previous Chocolate Factory, Burton makes the strange men quite human, but Hobbit-sized and the hundreds of them all played by one man, Deep Roy (whose credits up to this point consist primarily of Ewoks and the like mostly in films with the word “freak” in the title.)

Composer Danny Elfman (Spider-Man) deserves a big credit for composing the music to Dahl’s original Oompa Loompa lyrics, which tell the all too painful truths about each rotten child after they each meet their frightening fates for breaking the rules while inside the chocolate factory. Elfman breathes unique life into each song by adopting a different style to each that reflect the unique environments of the rooms in which the incidents occur in the factory. While Dahl’s Oompa Loompa lyrics follow a repeated pattern in each song, no two songs sound alike in Elfman’s hands.

The film’s greatest achievement is its realization of this visual feast the chocolate factory has to offer. The atrium set where the contest winners begin their journey on the river of chocolate is lavishly scrumptious. It looks good enough to eat, as it should. Even the outside world is rich with Burton’s fantastical sense of exaggeration and bold imagery. The Bucket’s ramshackle house, the town house of Dr. Wonka which up and relocates itself to a wintry plain, even the candy stores where the children buy their Wonka bars reflecting the basic natures of the cultures around the world all add to the sense of wonder that this tale of childhood inspires.

At one point one of the brats asks, “Why is everything so pointless here?” Charlie simply replies, “Candy doesn’t have to have a point, that’s what makes it candy.” It is good that the filmmakers do not extend this argument to the film itself. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory not only isn’t pointless, it is poignant. It is dipped in a deep sense of family love and the heart of childhood. I was a bit disappointed that Burton chose to cut out the scene where Charlie and Grandpa Joe also break the rules of the factory, but in the end the innocence of childhood and its necessity in life top the peak of this delicious desert. Desert isn’t pointless; it gives us comfort and closure, but mostly it tastes good.

1 comment:

Jud said...

I love how Jack gets his two cents in these reviews, too!