Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) / Comedy-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG for some mildly tense situations and innuendo
Running Time: 116 min.

Cast: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David KellyHelena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Annasophia Robb, Julia Winter, Jordan Fry, Philip Wiegratz, Deep Roy, Missi Pyle, James Fox, Christopher Lee, Adam Godley, Franziska Troegner
Director: Tim Burton
Screenplay: John August (based on the book by Roald Dahl)
Review published July 18, 2005

Although it's not likely to replace the original movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, in the minds and hearts of many viewers, the good news is that Tim Burton's (Big Fish, Planet of the Apes) version of the Roald Dahl classic book is about as good as a rehash probably could be without being a complete ripoff of the first movie, or going so far astray that it no longer resembles the source material in any meaningful way.  Essentially, what Burton has crafted is an alternative version for a new generation, and an imaginative and funny one at that, making this an instant classic for its visual sumptuousness and artistic inventiveness -- phrases long synonymous with Burton's style of filmmaking.

The story, for those unfamiliar, is about a boy, Charlie Bucket (Highmore, Finding Neverland), that lives in poverty in a small, dilapidated house congested with his parents and grandparents.  Just because they are poor, doesn't mean they don't dream, and one of the most vivid of dreams is about Willy Wonka (Depp, Secret Window), all of his wonderful candy inventions, and what goes in in the factory that has shut its doors to the public not too far from where they live.  Lo and behold, the enigmatic Wonka has just issued a contest that has the world abuzz -- five lucky children and guests will be able to go on a tour of the factory by finding one of five "golden tickets" concealed in separate bars of Wonka candies across the globe.  Sales skyrocket and news of finding the tickets make front page news, with each child becoming an instant celebrity.  Dismayed after four other children have already won, Charlie, of course, gets his ticket, and with his loving grandfather as his companion, they join Wonka and the other children in the factory tour, filled with all things wild, weird and wonderful, and a new contest -- one of the lucky children gets an ultimate prize, a surprise held by Willy Wonka for the winner.

Like its predecessor in book and film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a bizarre but very colorful story that has its share of beauty and wonder, but also eeriness and a dose of the surreal.  This gives the (mostly intentional) feeling of unease throughout, as we stare in apprehension at some of the delights of Wonka's wonderland, but know that not everything is what it seems.  Like the other movie, there are moral lessons to be learned from the children that don't make it, although clearly, Burton's film emphasizes the parents for the reason why the children are the way they are, including frequent flashbacks to Wonka's relationship with his father as a youth, and how that shapes his fascination, or obsession, with sweets, and his inability to relate to people directly in a way that isn't awkward.

Like the first film, this Wonka does have some musical numbers, except in this case, they are all performed by the Oompa Loompas.  If there's one thing I'm disappointed with, it's the fact that the Oompa Loompas are all played by the same actor, Deep Roy, which means they lack any real distinction or real personality, despite the fact that they don many different outfits throughout.  Also, the songs they sing are not only unmemorable, but to my ears, quite bad.  A concerted effort is made to have each music piece a different genre of music, from pop to metal to funk, but the results only takes momentum from the movie and fills it with cheesy montages and damn near un-listenable ditties.  This is one case where the original film may have more staying power and be the one that families prefer, although Burton's vision certainly makes it hard to go back otherwise.

Many people praise Depp for his range, and I have to admit, I have yet to truly embrace him as one of the great actors of our time.  Honestly, while Depp is fine as Wonka, I think there are many other actors that could really have made him a much more formidable and charismatic presence, and think this could have been a better film if Burton weren't so stuck on casting Depp when he can.  Interestingly, Wilder's performance from the first movie feels more right, as Wonka is a hermit that has a disconnect with the world around him, while Depp's Wonka seems to know modern lingo and pop culture catchphrases, despite not surrounding himself with anyone but Oompa Loompas for years. He comes off as androgynous and needy, perhaps intentionally, and gives more of a creepy Michael Jackson vibe that makes his dealings with children have a tinge of perversion.  His willfulness in trapping and abusing the children and their parents should probably make him a criminal.

That said, the rest of the cast is terrific, with Highsmith terrific as Charlie, and working well with Depp once again after their memorable performances together in Finding Neverland.  It isn't easy to cast children into movies, but every one of them is terrific for their roles, and even the casting of the parents is done with skill. 

However, despite certain faults, if one can call them that, are easily overlooked by the grand scope and vision of the movie as a whole.  Although clearly set in modern day, there is a timelessness in the look and feel of the film that makes this fantasy work, despite being set in reality.  With lush colors, gorgeous cinematography, and convincing CGI elements, this is "eye-candy" in every sense of the word, and every bit as satisfying and addictive as the real candy shown within.  Danny Elfman's (Spider-Man 2, Hulk) score is, once again, perfection, in spite of the quibbling about the Oompa Loompa songs.

Ultimately, which version of Wonka you prefer comes down to personal taste, and since I have scored both movies the same, I could probably go either way next time I have a Wonka jones, depending on my mood at the time.  Still, it's hard to displace a film watched with such zest as a youth, so nostalgia value will creep in for me, and I suspect, many children watching this version now will feel the same way about Burton's visually-saturated concoction.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo