Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (DVD, 2005, 2-Disc Set, Widescreen Deluxe Edition) Reviews
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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (DVD, 2005, 2-Disc Set, Widescreen Deluxe Edition)

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The Secret Life of Chocolatiers: Psycho-Analysis and Gobstoppers

Aug 4, 2005
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Great performances, sets, direction and design.

Cons:The almost angelic Charlie Bucket.

The Bottom Line: Tim Burton's brilliant working of Dahl's classic is less about guzzling down sweets and more the intended morality play of consumption and greed from an early age

Every summer brings its bombast and FX overkill, along with a few unnecessary and languid remakes. But of the latter, it is very rare that modern Hollywood actually betters a previous attempt at a project. However, this summer there have been two films that have been able to breathe new life into previous material: Christopher Nolan’s Batman Returns being the first; and Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory being the second. While both are not remakes, both are near-perfect re-workings of the original cinematic attempts at these projects, that in a rare Hollywood move actually stay closer and truer to the original source material.

While Nolan’s Batman Begins drained the camp of (ironically) Burton’s beloved popular vision of Batman and reinvigorated a tired series after years of mishandling in the palms of Joel Schumacher, Burton has taken on a challenge that is perhaps more intriguing. Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory IS NOT a remake, yet the director has easily upset many filmgoers whose childhood was blessed with more than one viewing of the 1971 adaptation of Dahl’s book under the misnomer Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. For these audiences, the 1971 film will probably always be the official word on Dahl’s book, even if it does take at times great liberties with its source material.

Whereas Nolan has been able to craft his more realistic vision of Batman without much protest, Burton has miffed fans of the original film. Yes, the original adaptation was good and it had its moments, but it was also a grab bag of the zaniest and happiest moments from Roald Dahl’s oddball children’s classic dressed in flower-power chic. Thus, in Burton’s film gone are those green-haired Oompa Loompas, schmaltzy MGM-lite musical numbers, golden geese and Gene Wilder’s iconic performance; and in are rabid squirrels, a poverty-stricken child and a more well-rounded film headed by talented actor Johnny Depp that adheres tightly to the spirit of Dahl’s dark and twisted book. By following Dahl’s intentions, Depp has without haste stripped the film of its hilariously dated psychedelic colourfulness and in return has created another magnificent project with longtime collaborator Johnny Depp.

The now familiar story tells of a young, poor boy named Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) who lives in a ramshackle house with his parents (Noah Taylor and Helena Bonham Carter) and grandparents Grandpa George and Grandma Georgina (David Morris and Liz Smith) and his mischievous Grandpa Joe (David Kelly) and Grandma Josephine (Eileen Essell). Grandpa Joe fascinates his grandson with thousands of tales involving the activities of local eccentric entrepreneur Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp). Grandpa Joe informs Charlie that there was a time when all the families in the town worked for Wonka at his magnificent factory, but now nobody is allowed inside after Wonka dismissed all his workers amidst spies stealing his recipes.

However, one day the reclusive Wonka announces that his factory will opened to those who find a Golden Ticket in one of his many Wonka brand candies. The reasons behind this marketing gimmick are unknown to the public, but the masses flock to buy Wonka bars and candies in order to catch a glimpse of the oddball candy man. While other children can readily stock up on chocolate, Charlie unfortunately cannot. He only gets one chocolate bar a year as his solitary birthday present.

For many other children finding a Golden Ticket is less of an arduous attempt, as their never-ending desire for material goods, fame and consumption places them in greater contention for Wonka’s tickets than Charlie. Thus it is no surprise when the children who win access to the factory are among the most greedy children on Earth: German glutton Augutus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), “born winner” and gum-chewer Violet Beauregarde (Anna Sophia Robb), spoiled brat Veruca Salt (Julia Winter) and media obsessed Mike Teevee (Jordan Fry). Yet, the shadow of despair as large as Wonka’s factory looms over the Bucket household as it appears at though good hearted Charlie does not stand a chance.

However, fortune is on Charlie’s side as the youngster manages to find a small amount of money and purchases a chocolate bar containing the last Golden Ticket. Thus to the surprise of everyone, along with his Grandpa Joe, Charlie enters the unconventional and topsy-turvy world of Wonka’s factory were the strange impresario guides the lucky few through a dark, mazy adventure of ocular delights embodied in its chocolate rivers, glass elevators and strange factory workers known as Oompa Loompas (all played by Deep Roy)

Much of Burton’s film, unlike the Mel Stuart adaptation is thus derived from the original source material. The only liberty Burton takes with Dahl’s book is the addition of a back story to explain how Wonka became a chocolatier. Certainly such an addition could have led to a haphazard mess, yet the scenes with the young Wonka and his overarching dentist father (played by Christopher Lee) are written so wickedly into the film that one tends to forget that these scenes of a coy childhood were never in Dahl’s novel.

One of the most memorable items regarding the 1971 adaptation of Dahl’s work were to be found in its musical numbers. And while the songs in Burton’s film are given a fun and amusing modern twist, they do not easily instill themselves into ones thought process for weeks afterwards as those in Mel Stuart’s film did. Nor does Depp's wonderfully mad Willy Wonka surpass Gene Wilder's in terms of cinematic importance. However, Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory could well be the finest adaptation of Roald Dahl's twisted children's classic because unlike Mel Stuart's 1971 film it adheres to the book itself; and is thus built around the themes and ideas of the story, rather than on the enigmatic figure of Willy Wonka.

The initial adaptation of the film has ingrained itself into modern culture primarily due to the strikingly twisted effort of Gene Wilder. Sure the Oompa Loompas were amusing in their own counter cultural way, but the 1971 film entitled Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory had more to do with the colourful factory of an eccentric chocolatier and less to do with those he invites into his factory or how he came to be.

If one was to take the 1971 Mel Stuart film apart, it can be quickly said that it was deficient in providing a well-rounded tale of greed and selfishness. All of the film’s most memorable sequences and characters exist within the chocolate factory and the spotlight is placed clearly on the mysterious activities that occur inside of it. While viewers remember Wilder’s performance, the scary tunnel ride or the fizzy lifting drinks, they also often forget the original film’s dour points: the stereotypical beery Germanic locale filled with Mid-western American accents, the fresh-faced, clean-cut Charlie and the fact the film houses one of the most tepid tunes ever to come out of Hollywood: the terrible “Cheer Up Charlie.”

Given Burton’s Gothic sentimentality it was hardly likely that any of the former would return and thankfully they do not. Though Burton fails to draw out funny moments from the book detailing lickable wallpaper and the joy of snozzberries, he does manage to produce a surroundings, story and a cast that are truer to Dahl’s original vision. Instead of being located in a bright Swiss or Bavarian hamlet, the factory is set in a desolate town reminiscent of industrial north England. With its fascistic design and cold appearance it sets the barren tone for the character whom resides within its gates. Since the factory was the industrial heartbeat of the town, naturally when its doors are closed the town suffers. Charlie Bucket is no longer living in a quaint house either. Instead he lives in a house that defines the word, windswept. It’s more Cabinet of Dr. Caligari than Bavarian townhouse.

The Bucket’s themselves finally appear to be malnourished and poverty-stricken. Charlie's grandparents genuinely look frail and weak. The entire family are so pale and spindly you would truly believe all they have eaten was cabbage soup during filming. This is aided by Burton’s good decision to reinsert Charlie’s dad (brilliantly performed by Noah Taylor) whose menial job screwing toothpaste caps onto tubes is eradicated by slick modern technology. Charlie’s mother (played wonderfully by Helena Bonham Carter) is just as affecting in her poor state.

Wonka himself is neither chirpy or cheery. Rather he is a strange and distant fellow affected by a psychologically tormented childhood involving the supposed fatal qualities of eating sweets. On primary analysis, Depp’s Wonka is as annoying as the children’s television presenters he has acknowledged as reference points. Yet, we are affected by his past plight and grow to both detest and delight in him for his rude, uncouth behaviour and sly commentary.

Therefore, a key element to the success of Burton's film are in its performances. Unlike the 1971 film, all the performances in this film are rich and poised: adding a degree of authenticity to counteract Depp's insane Wonka. Depp's performance is solid and draws heavily upon the psychologically tattered childhood of Wonka and his socially frayed present. His Wonka drifts from being bitter, to sweet to just plain nuts within a few brief moments. The addition of a backstory to how Wonka obtained his factory and his tormented childhood with his dentist father (magnificently portrayed by Christopher Lee) is a welcome addition that gives depth to both Depp's performance and the film as a whole. Finding Neverland youngster Freddie Highmore puts in another winning effort as young Charlie Bucket and is much more realistic in appearance and tone than Peter Ostrum (the original Charlie): who one could imagine playing Little League after the shoot was finished. Other fantastic performances come from the always brilliant duo of Noah Taylor and Helena Bonham Carter as Mr. and Mrs. Bucket respectively. Waking Ned Devine's David Kelly also puts in a strong performance as Grandpa Joe bettering Jack Alberton’s previous effort by a mile. While the versatile Deep Roy may not have the colourful appearance of the original Oompa Loompas, but manages to showcase his brilliance as he plays a wide-range of Oompa Loompas.

The factory sets within Mel Stuart film were part of the original’s charm and Burton does not differ much from this given its status in the book. Instead he attempts to given the factory a more industrial and harder exterior that makes it feel less accommodating than the grand homely architecture from the previous film. While CGI can often destroy many a summer blockbuster, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a film that is remarkably restrained in its usage, but deploys it at the medium minimally at its most critical point. Thus, not only do we see fantastic bird chocolates, but the process allows for Deep Roy’s hilarious turn as a few thousand Oompa Loompas. Nonetheless, it is Burton who as usual runs the wonderfully orchestrated show. His persona is sprinkled throughout the film giving the film a typical eerie Gothic palette, while also adding surprising flourishes of bright colours to many of the interior sets, particularly in the factory’s giant Seahorse ship. The screenplay written by John August is zany enough for younger viewers, while still having enough bite and snide remarks to keep the older members of the crowd enthralled.

Nevertheless, despite its fantastic design and performances, there is one massive blotch on this fantastic film. It cannot be found in Depp's performance, nor in the melodic quality of the Oompa Loompas. Instead the most glaring faux-as of Burton's adaptation, but rather a glaring omission in his picture that ultimately changes the audience's perception towards the character of Charlie Bucket. In the book and Mel Stuart film, Charlie is shown to be a well-behaved, but normal boy whom despite his goodness, still retains a mischevious quality about him. This is evident in the scene involving Fizzy Lifting Drinks in which Grandpa Joe and Charlie secretly sip the drinks against Wonka's wishes. However, Burton's film omits this scene completely. Now Charlie is viewed not as a good-hearted, yet average boy, but is given an almost saint-like reverance. By giving Charlie this angelic persona, Burton has tactlessly eliminated a central component the novel and original film that provides a sense of grounded reality amidst all the surreal madness and thus taken away an important truth to humanity displayed in both the novel and the original film.

Is Tim Burton’s adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory better than the Gene Wilder original? It’s hard to say. The two films are so radically different (one a colourful quasi-musical; the other an eccentric visual wonder) in tone, texture and presentation that deciding which is the better film can be difficult. However, while Wilder’s eccentric performance held together the original 1971 psychedelic-musical reworking of Dahl’s novel, Burton’s film is so well-written and stylistically sound, that Depp would not need to resuscitate the film at any point. Instead, Depp and Burton traded in the type of iconic career-altering performance Wilder gave to the original in return for a near-perfect adaptation of one of the most beloved stories of the 20th century. This is finally not just a story about good things happening to good people, but a more darker and richer story displaying the ill-effects of greed and consumption from an early age.

The imagery may be more haunting than striking, the songs more MTV than MGM and it may lack a lingering performance from Depp, but with style and finesse, both actor and director have created a picture that while losing memorable set-pieces and characters from Mel Stuart’s film instead creates something unlikely to be bounded by fears of time and in time may possibly rival the Wilder film in the public’s imagination. If not, then Depp and Burton have at least created a near-masterpiece that stands up to being their greatest collaboration since Ed Wood

One of the best films of the year so far: a scrumptious treat.

Four and half stars

Recommend this product? Yes

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