There is something intrinsically magical about Roald Dahl's book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". The story of Charlie Bucket, a little boy who lives with his dirt poor family in a shack near the famous Wonka Chocolate Factory, Charlie is lucky enough to win one of five golden tickets offered by Willy Wonka for a one-time visit to tour his amazing factory. Each of the other four children is the very embodiment of a problem common to young people; Augustus Gloop is a greedy kid who eats all the candy and chocolate he can get his hands on, Veruca Salt is a spoiled brat who gets everything she wants, Violet Beauregard is a little know-it-all who simply has to be best and Mike Teavee is obsessed with all things television. And then there is Charlie. Charlie is so poor that he doesn't want anything that he doesn't already have, and all he has is the love of his family. Arriving at the factory, the five children and their parents, meet Willy Wonka, the eccentric, strange chocolatier, and their lives will be changed forever.
That we all know from the book, which I will venture to put forth, may be the best children's book of all time.
Previously made into a film in 1971, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" stars Gene Wilder as the strange man who lives in a large factory populated by pygmies. The film is well - remembered for its fanciful, day glow renderings of the interior of Wonka's factory, Wilder's tour de force performance and the other elements faithfully recreated from the book.
Tim Burton's new film, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", starring Johnny Depp as Wonka and Freddie Highmore as Charlie (both in "Finding Neverland") will also be remembered for it's fanciful, vivid renderings of the interior of Wonka's factory, Depp's tour de force performance (for both good and bad) and all of the other elements faithfully recreated from the book.
They sound similar, don't they? Yes. I wouldn't classify "Willy Wonka" as a classic, it's more of a cult classic. And Burton's version is very good, but not great. The major improvement between the two is the improved production design.
Depp's performance is good. Wonka is a strange guy and Depp seems to be channeling the spirit of Michael Jackson for the role, which is actually more than a little fitting. Both characters were deprived of a childhood and now spend every moment of their adult lives trying to recapture it. I wonder if Jackson will consider the performance a compliment or an insult. Like Michael Jackson isn't going to see the film?
Wonka's bobbed hair, porcelain face which never seems to age and odd clothing give him a slightly effeminate look. Depp uses this as the first step in recreating the role. As Wonka, Depp imbues the character with a childlike sensibility and vocal pattern. As he speaks with his five invited guests, he seems most comfortable when they are acting like children. This also means that he is most comfortable around Charlie, because Charlie hasn't had had the influences the other kids have had. When they aren't acting like kids, he becomes bratty, belligerent and confused.
Freddie Highmore is the real standout of the film. He seems to completely get the character of Charlie; despite the odds of finding one of five golden tickets, throughout the world, he still holds out hope. Even as glimmers of hope cross his face, we also see that he realizes the odds are pretty great. All of this is conveyed just through his facial expressions.
The other four children are purposely one-dimensional and meant to convey four of the bad traits children can develop if left unchecked. All are portrayed well and serve to make the characters funny and amusing.
Charlie's family is the counterpoint to the bad children's parents. Living in a one -room shack that appears it will blow over, the family subsists on a diet of cabbage soup but the important thing is that they have each other's love, which helps them get through. Mom (Helena Bonham Carter, with a dental prosthetic) and Dad (Noah Taylor) care for their parents, all four of which spend every day in one bed. Grandpa Joe (David Kelly) and the other three grandparents provide Charlie with the love and support he needs. All of this helps Charlie become a pretty fantastic kid. He uses the bad toothpaste caps his father brings home from the toothpaste factory to create a replica of Wonka's factory, keeping the dream alive.
Once we enter the factory, Burton recreates the journey with vivid colors and designs. The main room they enter, with the chocolate river, is surprisingly similar to the same set in the first film. The addition of more advanced special effects adds another layer to the setting, but really, they are the same.
There are a few differences between the two versions. In "Charlie", Burton and screenwriter John August ("Big Fish") have added a back-story for Wonka. This is an interesting and well done touch. Through a series of memories, we see Wonka's childhood with his father (Christopher Lee), a dentist. These moments retain the fable like quality of the book, helping them seem fully integrated, but they also serve to slow down the story. Later, through stories and further memories, we learn about other points in Wonka's life. For instance, how he met the Oompa Loompas (all are played by Deep Roy). These are equally intriguing and well-done. They also seem a little more generic to the story.
But are these additions enough to warrant a new film? Not really. "Charlie" is well-made, interesting, and the back story adds another element of depth, but nothing new is done with the core story. For a director with such a vivid imagination, it is disappointing that Burton didn't take it further. Ultimately, "Charlie" seems like a stop gap for Burton, until the next big idea hits him.
"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is a very good film, and one of the better films out there for you to take the kids to, but it is ultimately an unnecessary film.