Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Until recently, I thought I was the only baby boomer who didn’t like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the first film made in 1971 from the Roald Dahl book. It turns out that there are a few of us who didn’t care for it. I thought it was slow in places and I suspect that children don’t like music nearly as much as adults think they do-especially bad music. I didn’t like the candy either.

So when I heard that Tim Burton was making a version of the book, I didn’t think he was poaching in sacred territory. In fact, Burton’s and Dahl’s visions seem to be uncommonly in sync. I believed Burton actually had a chance of getting it right.

As it happened, he didn’t quite, but he’s made a far more interesting film than Mel Stuart, the guy who directed Willy Wonka.  First of all, as visual as that film was, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was made by Tim Burton. All of his films, even the bad ones, are triumphs of art direction and cinematography. The ’71 version, even though the visuals are one of its few strengths, never had a chance. Not only are the sets inside of Burton’s factory spectacular, as you would expect, the scenes set in Charlie’s house are great too. They are a model of exaggerated poverty: the holes in the roof, the way everything was at a slant, and the rickety wood the whole thing was constructed of was brilliant. There’s no way that house could stay up in the real world.

Of course, the big comparison is of Willy Wonkas. Gene Wilder is a legend and his portrayal is the highpoint of the first film. Johnny Depp is a growing legend with a boatload of eccentric performances on his resume. Here he’s chosen to play Wonka as a child hating child, a man who who has been hurt by the world and has turned his back on it. But he’s also in love with magic and the amazement it brings to people. This film is about him resolving this dilemma. I have to give the edge to Wilder here. Depp’s performance is too creepy and cold at its core.

The performances in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are excellent all the way around. Freddie Highmore is terrific as Charlie. David Kelly is great as the tottering Grandpa Joe. And Deep Roy steals all his scenes as every single one of the Oompa Loompas.

Unlike its predecessor, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is not a musical. But there are a few songs here, all of them done by the Oompa Loompas and they’re great. Danny Elfman has set Dahl’s lyrics to various styles of popular song-R&B, disco and sixties pop. These are set to Busby Berkley type dance numbers, all performed by dozens of Deep Roys, each wearing the same deadpan expression. The result is hilarious.

The final verdict is that Charlie and the Chocolate factory is better than Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but it still has many of the same flaws. It lingers a bit too long over the sumptuous visuals for one thing. But the main fault is the repetative nature of the plot. They tour the factory, a kid with a deep character flaw gets into potentially fatal trouble and the parent is led away. Its hard to liven up that formula no matter how inventive and pretty the visuals are.


1 Response to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

  1. 1 sugarbeetone February 19, 2006 at 2:29 am


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