Dir: Tim Burton. US.2005. 115mins.
Tim Burton brings histraditional baggage to the new film adaptation of Roald Dahl's Charlie AndThe Chocolate Factory, a lavish summer tentpole from Warner Bros whichpurports to stay true to the original novel more than the sunny 1971 musical WillyWonka And The Chocolate Factory. Although that assertion is arguable,what's more important here to the film's commercial potential is the Burtonianschizophrenia of the whole affair. On the one hand, he delivers glorious visuals,quirky characters and a mordantly deadpan sense of humour, on the other hand,he falls short on simple storytelling values.
It's the same old problemsthat befell the two Batman films and Planet Of The Apes. Audiencewant-to-see was gigantic on Burton's reinventions of these beloved charactersand concepts, and opening box office results were suitably spectacular. But thefilms themselves failed to satisfy, and drop-off was immediate and steep.
Here again, from theseemingly perfect casting of Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka and a colourfulmarketing campaign, Charlie looks like the perfect summer family movie. But thefilm doesn't invest enough screen time in its basic human relationships andcharacterisations, while also undermining the moral elements which marked outboth Dahl's work in general as well as the 1971 film. Like Wonka himself, it'sa detached, eccentric work.
Box office numbers will behefty, if only because the awareness of the property is so high. Since the 1971film has become such a family staple around the globe on DVD, areinterpretation of the story has an instant audience.
Box office will probablyfall somewhere between the superior Lemony Snicket's A Series Of UnfortunateEvents which grossed about $200m worldwide earlier this year, and PlanetOf The Apes, which grossed about $180m apiece in domestic and internationalin 2001. Warner Bros will probably nudge it past the $400m mark, with thelion's share of that coming from international.
Burton opens the film with asplendid credit sequence showing the mechanised production process of Wonkachocolate bars to the strains of one of Danny Elfman's liveliest scores in sometime. The set-up, whereby we discover how Wonka was betrayed by moles in hisfactory and 15 years earlier closed it to outsiders, is told briskly, as is theintroduction to Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) and his impoverished family(Kelly as Grandpa Joe, Bonham Carter and Taylor as his hapless parents).
One day Wonka makes anannouncement that he will open his factory and reveal all its secrets to fivelucky children who find golden tickets hidden inside five random Wonkachocolate bars. The first four winners are quickly introduced - the fat Germankid Augustus Gloop, the spoiled English princess Veruca Salt, the brash gum-chewingAmerican girl Violet Beauregarde and the grumpy video game-obsssesed Americanboy Mike Teavee.
Charlie, of course, is thefifth, finally finding his golden ticket in a bar of Wonka Whipple-ScrumptiousFudgemallow Delight which he buys with some cash he finds on the street. He andGrandpa Joe set out the following morning to the Wonka factory where thewinners must congregate to meet Willy Wonka.
Enter Johnny Depp, giving acharacteristically wacky interpretation of Wonka which is more Michael Jacksonthan Gene Wilder. Wearing false gleaming white teeth, a black bob of hair andchalk white face makeup, he even looks like the fallen king of pop, and hishigh-pitched delivery, childlike view of the world and affinity for children'scompany only enforce the comparisons.
Wonka takes the kids on afactory tour and one by one, they fall victim to greed and arrogance and areforced to leave the tour early. The good-natured, humble poor boy Charlie, ofcourse, is the last child standing.
Screenwriter John August hasinvented a back story for Willy Wonka involving Christopher Lee as hisestranged dentist father who disapproves of his obsession with chocolate. It'sa curious addition to the Dahl narrative and one which dilutes the mystery andconviction of Willy Wonka which is at the heart of the story. By bringingWonka's moral authority into question - Charlie himself takes the lost,childlike Wonka under his wing at the end - the film-makers subvert the essenceof the novel, which revolved around Wonka's exacting standards.
The production itself isremarkable, from the sets, built at Pinewood Studios, to the special effects.The cast includes stalwarts from Kelly to Fox to Lee, although best of all isDeep Roy, a Burton veteran from Planet Of The Apes and Big Fish,playing the entire population of Oompa-Loompas, the factory's miniatureworkforce, who break into song every time one of the Golden Ticket kids getshis or her comeuppance.
The Zanuck Company
Warner Bros Pictures
Village Roadshow Pictures
Richard D Zanuck
from the novel by
Helena Bonham Carter