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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
2005 - PG - 115 Mins.
Director: Tim Burton
Producer: Brad Grey
Written By: Roald Dahl, John August
Starring: Johnny Depp, Freddie Hightower, Helena Bonham Carter, James Fox, Christopher Lee
Review by: Harrison Cheung
   
Director Tim Burton has gone to great lengths to insist that his “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is not a remake of the 1971 classic movie, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Instead, Burton’s film is based directly on Roald Dahl’s novel -- and that's a good thing, given the disaster of his remake of "Planet of the Apes." However, parents taking their kids to see Johnny Depp’s latest eccentric characterization will undoubtedly compare this movie to Gene Wilder’s classic and unique depiction of the title character, Willy Wonka.

The story in a nutshell? Eccentric chocolate billionaire, Willy Wonka, after years of isolation, throws the greatest marketing gimmick in the world by hiding five golden tickets in his chocolate bars. Five lucky kids, with an accompanying parent, will get to tour Wonka’s mysteriously gothic factory that looks like something out of Gotham City. One of the kids will win something special.

Four of the five kids are major brats – sort of juvenile versions of a number of the Deadly Sins. The fifth kid is a Dickensian angel, Charlie Bucket, who comes from a dirt-poor family where all four of his grandparents share a bed, and they dine daily on watery cabbage soup. Charlie, played by Depp’s “Finding Neverland” alum, Freddie Highmore, is all big-eyed wonder just like 1971’s Peter Ostrum, who never worked in movies again.

On its own, Burton’s flick is visually stunning with lots of Burton-style scenery that never fails to remind you that you’re watching an elaborate set. Johnny Depp’s bizarre portrayal of Wonka – as an androgynous dandy in a Victorian smoking jacket – have people pointing to Michael Jackson, something Depp denies. But the comparison is unavoidable – a pasty faced wealthy man who refuses to grow up and has a penchant for under privileged children. The Oompa Loompa’s are here too – tiny people Wonka has employed as cheap labor, as they work for cocoa beans. Though the 1971 picture was a musical, Burton’s version only stages convoluted Oompa loompa numbers that are muddily mixed and choreographed like a Vegas show from the 1970s. (Think those Fanta girls but where each girl is replaced by a dwarf. Wanta Fanta?)

But Burton’s version has its own spin on the story line. Screenwriter John August, who also collaborated with Burton on the soppy “Big Fish,” explores parent-child relationships again in this movie. There are a number of flashbacks as Willy remembers a highly restricted childhood, the son of a disciplinarian father/dentist.

In the 1971 movie, there was a key element that made the story a test of each child’s character. A corporate spy had offered each of the kids big bucks to steal a top secret candy from the factory. Even after much verbal abuse from Wonka, Charlie returns the candy to Wonka.

But in Burton’s movie, basically, the entire story is a test of Wonka’s character. The kids aren’t learning anything – it’s become a kiddy-candy version of ‘Survivor’ or ‘The Apprentice’ – and Charlie doesn’t win by any virtue but simply by being the last kid standing. Other elements haven’t aged very well since Wonka’s factory, staffed by the foreign Oompa Loompa’s seem less a picture of whimsome fantasy than a thinly veiled story about corporate outsourcing. In fact, Burton makes the point that all the locals in the little English factory town were laid off when Wonka changed his labor source.

Another problem with Burton’s movies of late is the over-use of the over-estimated Danny Elfman who has built a career of ripping off the soundtrack of “The Wizard of Oz” and merry-go-round calliopes. There’s trademark music and there’s simply retreading. And Elfman ain’t no John Williams.

For new eyes who have never seen the 1971 picture, Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is entertaining enough. Depp’s creepy performance is worth the price of admission alone. For those who enjoyed Gene Wilder’s Wonka, the elaborate musical numbers, and the heart of the 1971 picture, this current version is an empty candy-coated shell.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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