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"As textured and flavorful as a Wonka Whipple Scrumptious Delight."
"His interpretation of Wonka emits a vibe that is unmistakably off kilter with the rest of the film."
"It's just like being a kid again...in one gigantic candy store."
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory  

Cast

Willy Wonka: Johnny Depp
Charlie Bucket: Freddie Highmore
Grandpa Joe: David Kelly
Mrs. Bucket: Helena Bonham Carter
Mr. Bucket: Noah Taylor
Mrs. Beauregarde: Missi Pyle
Mr. Salt: James Fox
Oompa Loompa: Deep Roy
Veruca Salt: Julia Winter
Violet: Annasophia Robb
Mike Teavee: Jordan Fry
Augustus Gloop: Philip Wiegratz
Dr. Wonka: Christopher Lee
Review July 2005

"Candy doesn't have to have a point. That's why it's candy." Simple, yet profound words spoken by Charlie Bucket, a good hearted young boy from a poor family who lives down the street from Willy Wonka's world famous Chocolate Factory. Able to afford only one candy bar a year, Charlie's wildest dream comes true when he wins an all expense paid trip to the factory. But little is known about the imaginative man who runs the most celebrated candy company, let alone why after 15 years, he's decided to open its doors to five lucky winners. Based on the beloved children's classic by Roald Dahl, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is devilishly rich in humor and splendid in sight. Brought to life by visionary director, Tim Burton, who also adapted another of Dahl's works "James and the Giant Peach," the film preserves many of the thrills and possibilities that make the story rewarding and riotous, a morality tale where the nasty are punished and the good are justly rewarded. With wondrous image and imagination, it's as textured and flavorful as a Wonka Whipple Scrumptious Delight.

Charlie Bucket spends most of his free time dreaming about chocolate. And why wouldn't he? He and his mother and father and both sets of grandparents live in a poor, but happy home just a few blocks down the street from Willy Wonka's world famous chocolate factory. Sold all over the world, Wonka's chocolate continues to be manufactured and distributed mysteriously - not a single worker has been seen coming or going from the factory in the last fifteen years. Nor has anyone seen the reclusive Willy Wonka. Then, out of the blue, an extraordinary offer is made public. For five lucky children who find golden tickets inside Wonka's bars of chocolate, Willy Wonka will open the factory doors himself and reveal its innermost secrets.

One by one, winners are announced from around the world. First, there's Augustus Gloop, a gluttonous young boy compelled to each sweets all day; Veruca Salt, a spoiled little brat who complains profusely to her father if she doesn't get her way; Violet Beauregarde, an overly competitive and compulsive girl, not to mention a championship gum chewer; and Mike Teavee, a smart know-it-all with a fascination for television and video games. For Charlie, his chance of winning seems pretty slim. But as luck would have it, he discovers some money on the city street and uses it to purchase a single candy bar. Inside, of course, is the last golden ticket!

Each winner is allowed to bring with them one guest and Charlie brings his Grandpa Joe, as Joe used to work at the factory many years ago. Along with the rest of the group, Charlie and Grandpa Joe are treated to a wondrous world of edible delight. And almost as fanciful and unique as the factory is, Willy Wonka is perhaps even more intriguing. An eccentric entrepreneur, Wonka has devoted his life to manufacturing sweets, even traveling across the globe to recruit the exotic Oompa Loompas. But why? Why all the secrecy? And why wait years to open the factory? Of course, something is amiss and strange things begin happening along the tour. With every stop, the children's true personalities come out, getting them into all kinds of trouble and forcing many off the tour before it's finished. Only one child will be awarded a prize of all prizes. But what will it be, who will it be, and why?

Written by British author Roald Dahl, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" first hit the bookshelves in 1964. Detailing the adventures of a hungry yet humble boy, the book won over children and adults alike with important themes, a colorful imagination, some heartwarming characters, and chocolates galore. And because of its overwhelming success, Roald Dahl was approached by Paramount Pictures to adapt the book into a screenplay. That screenplay became known as "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." Starring Gene Wilder as the eccentric chocolatier, the 1971 feature length film was a musical. Featuring many well-known songs, such as Sammie Davis, Jr.'s "The Candy Man," "Wondrous Boat Ride," and "The Oompa Loompa Song." But the film struggled at the box office. Even worse, Dahl's script followed the book closely, but director Mel Stuart took some liberty with the final product, taking the story in a much darker direction. This, of course, displeased Dahl so much that he refused to sell anyone the rights to his follow up, "Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator."

But that was almost 35 years ago. After the successful stop-animation adaptation of "James and the Giant Peach," Tim Burton had earned the confidence of Roald's wife, Felicity. And with her blessing, had permission to re-imagine "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Much to our benefit, the outcome can only be described as a surprisingly magical, colorful, and whimsical amusement. It's a remarkable achievement for Burton, whose style and vision are the perfect complements to Dahl's literary fantasy. The color and charm, the warped sensibilities, and the use of black humor and the grotesque - all trademarks of Burton and Dahl. But perhaps the biggest surprise is that unlike its predecessor, this one adheres to the novel more faithfully. Written by John August, who also penned Burton's 2003 fantastical journey, "Big Fish," "Charlie" possesses the charm, the enthusiasm, and the inquisitive nature that made the tale such a wonderful read. The only deviation, of course, is the insight into Wonka's childhood and his relationship with his father, a dentist of all things. Told through flashbacks, these scenes work to perfection, elaborating on the Wonka character and helping to shape his fascination with chocolate. At least, up until an extraneous detour in the end.

Once inside the factory, the landscape turns from drab to dramatic, monochrome to psychedelic. It's literally a kaleidoscope of color featuring chocolate waterfalls, candy cane trees, edible green grass, a pink sugar boat, peapods full of gobstoppers, and a glass elevator. All of these elements are the result of expert craftsmanship from Production Designer Alex McDowell, Art Directors Guild Award winner for the inner metropolis inhabited in "The Terminal." And it's made more special by the fact that Tim Burton's preference was to create most of the illusions with practical effects and tangible artisanship. In other words, most of the set design components are hand made, including 200,000 gallons of real, flowing chocolate! In combination with Oscar winning cinematographer Philippe Rousselot's lighting techniques, blending primaries with dark brown chocolate, you have an image that is so contradictory, yet so vibrant and lush, you'll wish Wonka had really perfected the television chocolate concept. Although used sparingly, the use of digital effects is needed, transforming one Oompa Loompa prototype into dozens of meticulously choreographed characters dancing and singing to composer Danny Elfman's music.

"Everything here is eatable. I'm eatable, but that my children is called cannibalism and it is frowned upon in most societies." The perverted dialogue, the garish clothing, the pale skin tone, the shiny teeth, and the hairstyle. In interviews, Johnny Depp has said that his portrayal of Willy Wonka lands somewhere between Howard Hughes and a 70's rock star. But other comparisons are more obvious. No doubt, Willy Wonka is an eccentric billionaire. But is it possible to take those eccentricities too far? Johnny Depp has made a name for himself by taking chances, particularly with idiosyncratic characters. And his takes on J.M. Barrie in "Finding Neverland" and Captain Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean" were absolutely splendid, setting the right tone with the exuberance and lunacy of the films themselves. But here, the fit just isn't quite right. Even though Depp possesses a larger than life persona or a great stage presence, his interpretation of Wonka emits a vibe that is unmistakably off kilter with the rest of the film, one that turns kooky into downright creepy.

Fortunately, the rest of the cast is well on par. In the title role, Freddie Highmore is pleasant. Wide-eyed and cheerful, Highmore brings credibility and humility to Charlie. And he does so in much the same way as he did in "Finding Neverland" - effortlessly. He's accompanied by the spriteful David Kelly, from "Waking Ned Devine" fame, and his movie parents, Helena Bonham Carter and Noah Taylor, who help create a happy, Dickens' like home. Also, the remaining kids are delightful in their debauchery. Even though characters like Veruca Salt and Mike Teavee are predictable and one dimensional, they fulfill their purpose by putting Charlie in the best possible light. And lastly, there's Christopher Lee, whose most recent portrayals of villains in "The Lord of the Rings" and "Star Wars" have a very substantial influence on your perception of Dr. Wilbur Wonka - absolutely terrifying!

Much to my surprise, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is a highly entertaining and palatable treat. It combines the strengths of Tim Burton and Roald Dahl as if they were one, along with a talented production design team that creates a spectrum of brilliant confections. And it looks delicious! Although Johnny Depp's take on Willy Wonka is a bit outlandish and overdrawn, the spirit of Roald Dahl's imaginative genius can be felt throughout the entire piece - a moralistic tale about a humble young boy who is given the opportunity of a lifetime, only to realize that there are more important things than fame, fortune, or chocolate. Faithful, but not so much as to limit creativity, Tim Burton's film inspires indulgence and awe. It's just like being a kid again...in one gigantic candy store.



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