Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
It's never easy to update a
beloved story. Even harder when you have to compete with not only one,
but two iconic versions of the same tale. Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory was first a classic children's book written by Roald Dahl.
Then in 1971, it was filmed with Gene Wilder as Willie Wonka and the
Chocolate Factory and became a family favorite.
So Tim Burton and his
preferred star, Johnny Depp, had big shoes to fill for just considering the
idea. Of course, neither of them have ever been known for their timid
natures — if anyone could pull it off, it would seem they'd be the most
likely team in modern Hollywood that could do it.
Burton is able to capture
the look and the feel of the story splendidly — it is a brilliant explosion
of color and motion and whimsy. The sets are visually stimulating and
Oddly, the one slight
misfire here is Depp's performance as Willie Wonka. He deserves great
credit for not just aping Wilder's take of the role, in fact his Wonka is
nearly unrecognizable to the earlier work. It's an interesting, well
thought-out take on the role. You can't fault Depp for being afraid to
experiment. It's just that the experiment doesn't always work as well
as you'd like.
Depp plays Wonka as an
out-of-touch, dismissive man — uncomfortable with other people and at the same
time yet rather desperate for a human connection. He's lived alone too
long. He doesn't know how to function in society anymore. This odd
mixture of snobbishness and neediness makes for a slightly uncomfortable
mix. Add to that a look that is out of touch with the times too (it is
based on late Rolling Stone Brian Jones, but occasionally feels
uncomfortably like Michael Jackson) and a strangely affected speaking tone
(taken on from kid's TV hosts) and Willie Wonka is a really odd duck.
It doesn't ruin the film by
any means, or even make it a bad movie. It just feels a little
miscalculated in a film that is working so well in other ways. This is
added to by giving Willie a backstory — as a child he is banished by his
tyrannical father (Christopher Lee), a dentist who detests candy.
(Finally, a film where the bad guy is a dentist!) In an odd way, it's
sort of a letdown to know what Willie Wonka's motivations and causes are.
Willie Wonka always seemed a force of nature. He acted like he did
just because that was who he was. Knowing he was an unhappy kid who
became a candy baron as a slap at his unfeeling father makes Willie seem too
human and pathetic.
Of course, Burton was trying
to get back to the original book. (He was quoted as being rather
dismissive of the first movie.) Burton and Depp have created a
whimsical and lovely story. If it's slightly imperfect, that's just
the way that life is.
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Posted: July 16, 2005.