Charlie and The Chocolate Factory
Directed by Tim Burton. Starring Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, and Helena Bonham Carter. Rated G. For showtimes, please see page 65
Director Tim Burton has a knack for taking on thankless missions. Having successfully reinvented the Batman franchise in 1989-returning the psychological dissonance to what had become a campy '60s TV show-Burton had mixed results updating Planet of the Apes in 2001.
Now, the director has assumed the precarious task of remaking a revered (sometimes feared) children's classic, 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Although John August's screenplay for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory rings truer to Roald Dahl's novel in more ways than just the title, it is also exactly the kind of fare you'd expect from the director of Beetle Juice and Edward Scissorhands. For Burton, life may be a box of chocolates, but these sweets are never entirely as they appear; more often than not they contain a dark and gooey centre. In this case, the centre is filled with assorted bad-parenting and fatherhood issues, a theme explored in Burton's 2003 Big Fish. Burton is consistent with Dahl's original idea that the true villains are inattentive and irresponsible parents, as underscored by Burton's casting of U.K. horror legend Christopher Lee as Wonka's dentist father.
Burton has also cast old pal Johnny Depp as Wonka, a role previously played, some might say definitively, by Gene Wilder. Depp is clearly having a ball as the emotionally damaged chocolatier, a role that makes use of his repertoire of off-beat mannerisms introduced in films like Ed Wood, Benny & Joon, and Finding Neverland. Depp's Neverland costar Freddie Highmore plays the title role of Charlie Bucket, one of five children who obtain a golden ticket-concealed in their Wonka Bars-entitling them to an unprecedented tour within the gates of Wonka's mysterious factory.
The exterior of that building appears a bleak, Dickensian monolith. Inside, however, the promised magical world of chocolate waterfalls and multidirectional glass elevators is wonderfully realized by production designer Alex McDowell and French cinematographer Philippe Rousselot.
Actor Deep Roy (and multiple CGI clones or animatronic dummies) plays the Oompa Loompas as they mime along to Danny Elfman's Dahl-versed songs.
But it's Burton's stable of humans that truly brings to life what CGI and sets alone cannot. Among the actors who play "good" adults are the dependable Helena Bonham Carter and Noah Taylor as Charlie's parents and David Kelly as adorable Grandpa Joe. Burton's eye candy is more than an amusing confection. At its gooey heart, Charlie is a timeless cautionary tale for parents and children alike.