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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Unlike the fluffed-up 1971 original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, director Tim Burton puts a decidedly quirkier and darker spin on his highly stylized and brightly colored Charlie & the Chocolate Factory adaptation. In other words, there are very few warm and fuzzy moments--and that's OK.


Burton wanted this Charlie to be strictly by the book--Roald Dahl's classic children's book, that is. We meet Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), a young boy, who--despite living in deep poverty with his parents (Helena Bonham Carter and Noah Taylor) and both pair of grandparents--has a very positive outlook on life. His biggest dream is to meet famed chocolatetier Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) and go inside his great chocolate factory, a voluminous structure that looms over Charlie's little town. Even though great quantities of chocolate are still being made and shipped all over the world, it's shrouded in mystery. No one has either gone in or come out of the factory in 15 years. But that's all about to change. Wonka announces he'll invite five lucky children to his factory--to get ''all of its secrets and magic''--by hiding five golden tickets inside his chocolate bars. The ones who find the tickets get to come. And as luck would have it, Charlie finds the last golden ticket. Taking his Grandpa Joe (David Kelly) along with him, Charlie is dazzled by one amazing sight after another, Oompa Loompas and all, as he tries to warm up to the enigmatic Wonka. The others turn out to be a rotten bunch of gluttonous, spoiled, competitive, know-it-all children, whose greedy personalities lead them into all kinds of trouble. That leaves only the sweet Charlie, who wins the absolute grandest prize of all: the keys to the factory itself. But will he abandon his family for all that chocolaty fame? Not a chance.


Although Burton and Depp have made three movies together so far--Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow--Burton admits Charlie & the Chocolate Factory was the first time he didn't have to beg the studio execs to let him cast the inscrutable actor. That's because Depp's equally unusual but highly successful Oscar turn as Capt. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean finally changed those Hollywood mucky mucks' minds. Doesn't matter to Depp, though; he's going to keep doing what he wants. And it looks like he is having the time of his life playing the infamous Willy Wonka. Rather than infusing the character with a kind wisdom, like Gene Wilder did in the original, Depp's Wonka is more like the book's version: childish, mischievous, standoffish and even a tad klutzy. He's a fellow who certainly listens to a different drummer. In other words, Depp. The rest of the adults in the movie obviously pale in comparison, except perhaps Indian actor Deep Roy, who gets to play all the Oompa Loompas. What fun that must have been, especially in performing the film's only musical numbers. As far as the kids go, Highmore, who also starred with Depp in Finding Neverland, is quite endearing as Charlie. The rest of the relatively unknown children also do a fine job, albeit a bit more snotty and unfazed than the original set. You know, kinda like how kids are these days.


Here's the burning question that seems to be applying to many a film these days: why mess with a classic? The 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is certainly an undeniable gem, a mixture of Technicolor, elaborate sets and music that, with the engaging Gene Wilder in the lead, leaves a sweet and indelible impression. Is there really a need for another version? Tim Burton thinks so since he didn't really like the original at all. Burton's idea was to make a worthy version of Dahl's darker novel, plain and simple. When he signed to make a Charlie redo, he even forbade the writer, John August, who hadn't ever seen Willy Wonka, from watching it, lest it would cloud his judgment. Burton accomplishes what he set out to do. Charlie captures Dahl's tone succinctly--wildly imaginative, slightly off-centered with a moral center but certainly more mean-spirited than 1971 version. And, of course, in the hands of a technically proficient director, Charlie is also a marvel of sights and sounds. Burton spared no expense with his luscious sets, multicolored costumes, Oompa Loompas and lots and lots of rich, creamy chocolate. Yummy. While some may miss Willy Wonka's magical qualities, others may feel a need to run to the concession stand and grab some Snow Caps.

Bottom Line

This slightly more malicious Charlie & the Chocolate Factory may have lost some of the original's wonderment. But coming from the fertile and creative mind of Tim Burton, it is still a marvelous confectionary delight, especially to those who like a darker chocolate.