Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
Tim Burton lovingly adapts Roald Dahl’s famous children’s novel to the big screen with a hyper keen sense of the story’s cautionary themes regarding wrongheaded parenting. Johnny Depp gives a contained performance as the eccentric Willy Wonka that dips into Austin Powers’s vocal inflection. Willy Wonka takes five children and their parents on a tour of his world’s most elaborate chocolate factory. Superfluous musical set pieces, performed by a chorus of little Oompa-Loompas (all played by the versatile Deep Ray), accompany the episodic attrition of bratty children as their transgressions expel them from being eligible for the grand surprise prize that awaits one of them.
Perhaps the neatest sleight-of-hand maneuver is the way Tim Burton and Johnny Depp collude to subvert the story’s incidental allusions to Michael Jackson and his Neverland Ranch. Willy Wonka is introduced as an anti-entertainer from the minute we meet him standing alongside the children and their parents as they wait to enter his monolithic factory on a cold winter's day. The group watches a giant mechanized doll show that ends in an electrical fire malfunction that Wonka finds most amusing. For however unnaturally pale Depp’s Willy Wonka is, he’s an uncomfortable ambassador who disdains children even more than he does their spineless parents. The stream of choice sarcastic barbs Wonka lets fly at the children, announces his investment in keeping the brats resolutely at bay.
As with Dahl’s book the film spends its first act introducing Charlie Bucket (perfectly played by Freddie Highmore) and his impoverished family, which consists of his parents and both sets of grandparents. Charlie’s dad (Noah Taylor) and mom (Helena Bonham Carter) are nearly overshadowed in their affection for Charlie by Grandpa Joe (David Kelly) who once worked for Willy Wonka inside the chocolate factory before Wonka dismissed his employees due to internal spies attempting to steal his secret recipes.
Handbills suddenly appear announcing a contest for five children to take a personally led tour of Willy Wonka’s factory if they find a gold ticket hidden inside a Wonka chocolate bar. A glorious montage of the global obsession with Wonka Bars gradually reveals the first four winners as consumer oriented children notable for their unique brands of narcissism. The first winner is an obese German boy named Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz) who comes by his golden ticket via the sheer volume of chocolate he constantly consumes. Next, Veruca Salt (Julia Winter) is a spoiled little British rich girl whose nut-baron father uses his staff of factory workers to open hundreds of thousands of Wonka Bars to fulfill his daughter’s insistent demand for a ticket. American selfishness is roasted with a winning-obsessed gymnast named Violet (Annasophia Robb), and a violent video game addict named Mike Teavee (Jordon Fry).
But Willy Wonka’s tour has a sadistic Machiavellian twist as evidenced in rooms specific quality geared to ambush a base character trait in each of the rotten kids. Tim Burton takes the edge off of these somewhat violent events with Oompa-Loompa song-and-dance numbers that temporarily bring the movie to spastic musical segues in the midst of the children succumbing to the effects of their abbreviated deadly sins.
As with the 1971 movie version of Roald Dahl’s book ("Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory" with Gene Wilder) Willy Wonka is not an entirely likable industrialist. His eccentricities are not unlike those of Howard Hughes. He is removed from reality, and thus is unable to set a viable example for society. It isn’t until Willy Wonka visits with Charlie’s family for dinner in their dilapidated house that he begins to see what he must do to assist the immediate world around him. Tim Burton’s "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory" is not a masterpiece of modern cinema, but it’s also not the horrible miscarriage promised from the sickly psychedelic colors of its poster. As for the morals contained in Dahl’s well-told story, you’ll have to turn a blind eye to the colonialist themes inherent in Wonka’s importing of Oompa-Loompas to populate his workforce. Slavery is still with us.
Rated PG. 106 mins. (B) (Three Stars)
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