Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryRoald Dahl’s wonderful novel is really perfect material for the silver screen: Filled with wonder, discovery and very definite moral messages, this is not the first time the tale of Charlie Bucket has been adapted. Dahl himself wrote the screenplay for a beloved 1971 version starring Gene Wilder as the famous top-hatted chocolatier. Loveable as that caper is, it eschews many of the novel’s more quirky aspects. This remake however would deliver a fairytale like nobody else could – in the hands (or rather the mind) of Tim Burton, the tale is twisted and turned in the most bizarre of ways, yet interestingly never straying far from  the source text. This is without a doubt one of the film’s greatest strengths.

When Willy Wonka (Burton regular Johnny Depp), owner of the world’s greatest and most secretive chocolate factory announces that he shall allow five lucky children a tour of the complex, Charlie Bucket  (Freddie Highmore – “Finding Neverland”) couldn’t be more excited. However he and his family live in poverty, barely able to support themselves and certainly without the means to buy those Wonka bars that could contain a golden ticket with an invitation. One by one the tickets are found by rich and spoiled children around the globe, Charlie’s disappointment mounting. That is until, by chance, he affords himself a chocolate bar and finds the last ticket. Together with his grandfather Joe (David Kelly), Charlie and the other children set out on a day of adventure in Wonka’s magnificent factory. The main attractions for the audience are Burton’s gothic visual style both inside the factory and outside as well as Johnny Depp in the central performance. On the eyes, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” combines Tim Burton’s best, from the Scissorhands-esque kitsch colours to more “Sleepy Hollow” inspired exteriors. The Bucket house itself is possibly one of his best “weird” creations of late. The chocolate factory’s interiors meanwhile will have Burton hardcores squealing with delight.

For Willy Wonka, Burton and Depp have decided to walk the route of an eccentric inventor troubled by his childhood. His love of sweets, stemming from a rebellion against his health-obsessive father played by Christopher Lee (a part sadly not given enough screen-time), is a story not taken from the novel but as such works quite well. Depp’s Wonka is a freak, never as likeable as in Dahl’s text and this is the beginning of the film’s troubles. So much attention is devoted to Depp’s bizarre mannerisms, that the whole wonder of the chocolate factory is lost. With Burton it was never going to be a particularly child-friendly film (the MPAA PG rating is given on the grounds of “Quirky Moments”) but, the factory as portrayed here is a place almost of horror rather than delight. While this is certainly the case in the novel, Burton and Depp take it one step further, unfortunately in the wrong direction. The competitor children too are meant to be caricatures and stereotypes but are grossly over-played. Worst of all are the Oompa Loompas: The joke that they’re all played by Deep Roy soon wears thin and the all-important songs – some of the novel’s best bits – are shameful (more about those below…). Ironically then, the film’s best bits are those with Charlie’s family in their home.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory OSTDanny Elfman’s relationship with Tim Burton goes back farther than even Johnny Depp’s and their work together has yielded some fantastic results. Besides writing the underscore for the film, Elfman received the job of composing the Oompa Loompa songs. Bluntly put, he fails miserably. Instead of going his usual and albeit more predictable route of schizophrenic musical mayhem, the songs for each of the children (with Charlie’s one omitted altogether – a crime) takes the form of a rock/pop oddity. They really are terrible and some of the worst material Elfman has written in years. The underscore however, is very enjoyable on album when sheared of the songs. Many of Elfman’s trademark elements are to be heard, many of them already pre-dating the music heard in “Alice in Wonderland” which marked a true return to his roots for the composer. For the score, the album may be worth the purchase but the songs will drive you nuts.

Like “Alice in Wonderland” five years later, the Burton and Depp brand of weird, loses its magical touch, instead becoming too weird. Children will certainly not enjoy it (they might actually be traumatised). Adults may be attracted by the beautiful and creepy visuals but will lament the loss and destruction of Dahl’s best bits. On the whole, it misses the mark by a bit and is not among the director’s best.

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As this will probably be my last review this year, I’d just like to wish all my readers, regular and occasional, the very best in 2011. Safe to say you will be able to look forward to many new reviews in the new year as we head towards our first anniversary. Please spread the word about my reviews by sharing on Facebook and Twitter – thanks!

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