Monday, July 18, 2005

MOVIE REVIEW: Charlie & the Chocolate Factory

It’s been at least 30 years since I read Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, so I don’t remember all the details. I do recall thinking, “Kids like this? It’s so preachy!”

And then there was Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Orange Oompa-Loompas, catchy tunes, bright colors, and, of course, the dry wit and physical comedy of Gene Wilder and Jack Albertson —I thought these captured the spirit of the book quite well, even if the script did add the “fizzy lifting drinks” scene and the subplot about Slugworth and the Everlasting Gobstoppers.

Why would anyone want to mess with a classic?

Tim Burton’s Charlie & the Chocolate Factory does more than restore the original title. It’s not a musical, although the Oompa-Loompas do sing the morals of their story once a child gets his or her “just desserts.” But this is, after all, Tim Burton—the same Tim Burton who brought us Edward Scissorhands and Nightmare Before Christmas. Let’s say his vision of Willy Wonka is a bit… dark. And warped.

In the book and in the original movie, Willy Wonka is definitely not Santa Claus. He doesn’t particularly like children. He doesn’t particularly like people. Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka enhances those qualities. He smiles and speaks quietly, but you’re never quite sure if he’s sincere or malicious or just plain crazy. Freddie Highmore plays Charlie, the poor little boy who won a Golden Ticket just by chance and is, in Willy Wonka’s words, “just happy to be here.” Freddie looked very familiar—turns out he played Peter in Finding Neverland. David Kelly plays Grandpa Joe. They don’t have much to do during the tour. Grandpa Joe’s big scenes come before; Charlie’s come after. Again, the last part of the movie is altered from what I remember of the book, but it’s plausible enough that maybe I’ve forgotten.

So… did I enjoy it? And would I recommend it?

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory is rated PG and, I think, deservedly so. Charlie is desperately poor. There is a scene before the children enter the factory that sets the tone of the strangeness to follow. Of course, the children are put in peril—through their own doing, but still, you’re not quite sure if they’re going to come out all right. Willy Wonka is downright weird, from makeup to glasses to costume. If you have a young child who is going to need braces, you may have some reassuring to do afterwards.

If you like Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, then go see the movie. One complaint I had was that I couldn’t understand all the lyrics to the song the Oompa-Loompas sang because the music overwhelmed the singing.

On the March Hare Rating Scale: One Golden Ticket. Go see it if you like a slightly skewed perspective of things. And keep in mind this is an entirely different movie than Willy Wonka.