Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (PG)

Based on a story by Roald Dahl, Directed by Tim Burton
On general release from 29th July 2005

Reviewed by Tim Kopp

The most entertaining major studio film of late, Tim Burton's delightfully mischievous adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory captures the twisted spirit of the novel in spite of a sentimental coda and a subplot that rationalises Willy Wonka's behaviour. The excellent cast led by Johnny Depp, flamboyant musical interludes and the high technical expertise of Burton's crew all leave a lasting impression. **** out of five

Living with his parents who struggle to make ends meet and his four grandparents in a dilapidated house at the edge of town, Charlie Bucket is an innocent little boy with his heart in the right place. When he learns that social recluse and entrepreneur Willy Wonka, unseen for decades, has returned to business and declared a children's contest with a tour through his chocolate factory at stake, Charlie dreams of winning one of the five tickets that are hidden in Wonka chocolate bars all over the world. By lucky chance, Charlie eventually wins the single remaining ticket and joins the four other children, an obese Bavarian boy, a spoiled-rotten aristocrat daughter, a competitve martial artist and an arrogant television addict for the tour at the end of which one of them will be getting the main prize.

Roald Dahl's story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had been filmed before in 1971 with Gene Wilder but the author, by all accounts, detested the film. He would in all likelihood have been pleased with seeing how to a large extent the wicked streak if not the ambiguity of his novel has been captured in Tim Burton's new remake, the director's second after the ill-fated Planet of the Apes. Readers of the book will no doubt appreciate the Schadenfreude and quiet satisfaction that Johnny Depp's Wonka and the film take in punishing the four children whose greed, know-it-all pretensions and disregard for others Dahl held in such contempt. Burton proves himself to be perfectly attuned to the darker wit and discomfiting undertones in Dahl's book, and the palpable relish at disposing the rotten kids is most impressively and disturbingly expressed in the darkly funny squirrel sequence, a scene that was absent from the 1971 version due to inherent budget and special effects limitations but it is memorably realised here. The scene, and the film altogether, further demonstrates that Burton is one of the few directors working in Hollywood today (the others being Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson) who understand how to make CGI blend in seamlessly with real sets and miniature work, and not to overwhelm the story.

Danny Elfman's musical interludes featuring the Oompa Loompas compliment the mischievous, adult humour nicely while the technically impeccable and colourful set and production design is endearingly wacky. Even the film references, a source of major irritation in many other mainstream films, are unobtrusively and sparingly integrated into the story: when Mike Teavee meets his fate, Burton cheekily spoofs Psycho and the use of Strauss' Zarathustra in 2001 while the house of the Bucket family with its tilted angles is a lovely design nod to German Expressionism.

The film also delights with another bravura performance from Johnny Depp and uniformly good turns from a superbly chosen cast as well as some brief scenes in which we learn among other things that whipping cream is literally being made from whipping cows. It is therefore all the more disappointing that John August's script seeks to rationalise Willy Wonka's behaviour by adding a subplot about his estrangement from his stern dentist father (Christopher Lee). In doing so, the film deprives Wonka and itself of some of the ambiguity that it thrived on up to that point (this annoying tendency to contextualise can also be seen in the US remakes of pretty much every recent Japanese horror film) . Likewise, the film's coda is too reassuringly sentimental even if the reunion of the Wonkas is quietly touching in its own way. Nevertheless, the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory captures enough of the essence of Dahl's book, and is so impressively staged and entertaining that it promises to age well.

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