Monday, November 07, 2005

E's Movie Review: Charlie & The Chocolate Factory

I'll admit from the start that I've always been a fan of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate

Perhaps I should amend that.

Despite what Roald Dahl thought about it, or any flaws there may be, I was -
am! - a fan of the trickster incarnation that Gene Wilder brought to the
screen. His sense of timing made for an enjoyable experience.

The rest of the movie (even parts of Gene's performance) weren't always able
to match the wry and perfect delivery he brought to some of the better
scenes. Some you win, some you lose.

So I was walking into C&TCF with that on my mind.

Still, Burton had redeemed himself from the horrid Planet of the Apes
with the excellent Big Fish, also adapted by John August, and Johnny
Depp has long been fun to watch when it comes to character work. I
was curious to see if the combination would gel.

It did.

Willy Wonka, by way of Depp, is very much a child who never gave
himself the opportunity to mature.

This is not quite the same as Peter Pan's not growing up -- Willy is
very much aware that he is an adult; he just denies whatever parts of
that that don't interest him. He's also crippled by the concept of
family. (This ties into the backstory added to the film; not
something I was looking forward to, but certainly not as bad as it could
have been.)

Depp's portrayal of Willy as a man-child offered many fun little
tidbits -- dismissal, one-ups, pettiness -- all mixed up with a bubbling
sense of wonder. He had his wry moments as well, but always seemed
a little more accidentally unhinged than Wilder's Wonka, whose craziness
seemed calculated.

The Oompa-Loompas are given an onscreen origin this time
around. No more creepy singing dwarfs... well, actually, they were
creepy, and they did sing... but the magic of CGI gave them new lows in
height. And they were all portrayed by actor Deep Roy - it
gave a strange, almost smurf-like consistency, and his face bore out the
nature of the imps perfectly.

I did miss the familiar tune of the 70s Oompa-ditties, homogenous as
they were, but the new numbers (with lyrics taken from the book and
scored by the reliable Danny Elfman) served in good stead.

Still, only two of them really stuck in my head for any length of
time -- Willy Wonka's entrance theme (a quick riff on "It's A Small
World" with a much more satisfying end to the song) and the
surprisingly infectious groove to Augustus Gloop's outro.

The children all met their familiar fates -- Augustus fell into the
river of chocolate, Violet chewed her way into a new shape, Veruca was
thrown down a garbage chute and Mike Teavee was shrunk in transit from
point A to B.

What struck me about these kids is how much nastier they seemed to
be. Not by much, I grant you, but these spoiled, rude, annoying,
self-centered little kids (and the parents who fostered such behavior)
felt too real for entertainment. And, at the end, it shows that
(just as in real life) extreme circumstances don't always change a
person for the better.

Charlie, now...

Well, we all know what happens to Charlie. Willy offers him the
keys to the kingdom, the chocolate factory itself.

In the 70s version, this was done slyly -- Willy, in full Wilder
trickster form, measures Charlie's worth with a small test of
ethics. That's the mature yet mischievous Wonka.

When Depp's Willy makes Charlie the offer, it seems almost
arbitrary. When Charlie refuses, I hope that it's some trick on
Willy's part; a test to be certain Charlie is worth the gift.

I understand that this sets the foundation for the way Burton
eventually wraps the story, which does make sense, which does work...
but just didn't give me what I was expecting. That's not always a
bad thing, and a minor disappointment is better than a major one any

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is a film of moments. Some
work, some don't. Some you win, some you lose.

The good news is: Burton's average is solidly in the win column here,
edging ever closer to making the collective public forget that simian
blotch on his filmography.

Now if he'd just do a sequel to Beetlejuice, I think we could call
ourselves square...

E's Rating:


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