Mind Your Nuts
Tim Burton is developing a taste for remakes. Planet of the Apes was received with mixed reviews, and I admit to some trepidation about how he would treat Dahl’s text. I am a fan of the beloved original adaptation with its wacky songs and Gene Wilder’s memorable performance. The original film departed from Dahl’s text and the result is far more, pardon the pun, sugar coated.
Burton’s Chocolate Factory isn’t strictly a remake. It is not a re-treatment of the original film, instead it returns to the text as its source of inspiration. It would be like calling Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings a remake of the 1978 animated film; an unlikely comparison.
So with an open mind I went to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Admittedly, I couldn’t help but carry the baggage of the original with me. Watching it on TV a few days before probably didn’t help...
The first thing you’ll notice is Burton’s unique visual style and Danny Elfman’s fantastic score. This pairing is so complimentary that it would be disturbing to have one without the other.
Burton creates a cold lifeless village surround the Wonka’s towering brobdingnagian factory which invokes the feeling of a Russian town rather than of an English one. Charlie Bucket (that’s “Boo-kay”) lives with his parents and all four grandparents in a tiny dilapidated shack in the middle of a recently demolished block of houses.
Charlie’s parents are played by Noah Talor and Helena Bonham Carter (another Burton regular and Fiance, who wore bad teeth to match Taylor’s naturally bad set). Rather thankless roles for both, but gives Charlie someone to want to come home to.
Never leaving a bed in the living area are the four grandparents in some sort of weird seniors pyjama party. Grandpa Joe (David Kelly) is the liveliest of the bunch, sharing late-night stories with Charlie about his time working in the factory before Wonka shut everyone out.
Freddie Highmore presents a wide-eyed and innocent Charlie whose love of his family is his strongest emotion. At all times he is the selfless and reserved, the archetypal perfect little boy. This works well, but I think I would have liked to see him have some basic human vice. Once we meet the other Golden Ticket winners, Charlie’s purity stands out even more.
When the search for the Golden Tickets commences the film picks up some pace. Burton expertly introduces the four horrible children, and doesn’t hold back in the disgust that we should feel for them. The other disgusting children are Augustus Gloop, Mike Teavee, Violet Beauregarde and Verruca Salt, who will drive you to your end by the time she meets hers. Burton doesn’t hold back in telling us how disgusting the kids are, to the extent of having multiple characters repeating how repellent they are.
We know that Charlie has to find a ticket, otherwise what’s the point? But still we hope and hope that he finds one. The inevitable happens and Charlie is off to the Factory. G’pa Joe accompanies Charlie, and this is explained because he used to work at the factory. A rather flimsy excuse, and Charlie’s parents were certainly a little disappointed to not go with him. I think perhaps that these poor people are a little to positive. For example, a little more bitterness would have been appropriate when Mr. Bucket (“Boo-kay”) loses his job to a machine.
When Willy Wonka makes his grand entrance to the tunes of Disneyland-eske puppetry that goes horribly wrong, ending in fire, is when the film takes it’s distinct turn for the weird.
Depp is a rather enigmatic actor. Most of his best work seems to be about dealing with an inner child of some sort. Edward Scissorhands, Finding Neverland, Pirates of the Caribbean, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Benny and Joon, and even his detective characters in Sleepy Hollow and From Hell. His take on Wonka is possibly the most extreme. The bobbed wig, very pale face, perfectly aligned pearly white teeth and icy-blue eyes allow Depp to delve into the eccentricities of this odd individual. The way he takes on effeminate body poses and a higher pitched voice adds a layer of ambiguity that takes Depp’s Wonka to another level of oddity.
When Wonka first appears on screen, his extreme anti-social behaviour first shows itself and rather than being welcomed to the factory, you have the distinct feeling he doesn’t really want you there. It’s this conflict, of being invited yet unwanted, that rides along under the main action. Continuing that odd feeling.
The children are perfectly disgusting little beasts and Augustus is destined for a fudgey ending. Then we lose each of the horrid children one by one. Each of these episodes stands alone as great segments, but I don’t think Burton was successful in welding them together. The pace during the middle act is jarringly random.
Burton’s liberal use of a slight soft focus gives all of Wonka’s world a slightly ethereal and fantasyland look. I loved the Chocolate Room, The Sorting Room and the Wonkavision studio; the homage to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was brilliantly executed. I was disappointed with the Inventing Room. It seemed too shiny and preconceived. A place of invention should be random and chaotic, where anything and everything is a possibility.
The flashback scenes were an interesting journey through Wonka’s subconscious, but I’m a little baffled as to why Burton chose to follow this path. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is clearly marketed towards kids, being based on a kids book and all, making the choice off delving into the childhood traumas of Wonka a bizarre choice. The average 12 year old or younger wouldn’t care that because Wonka was unloved as a child he’s grown up to be a family-abhorring recluse with a penchant for orange little men. If this is some of Burton’s own demons bleeding into his work, then another film would have been a better place.
The paradox of both cinematic adaptations of Dahl’s book is that the both are cross titled. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is in fact Charlie’s journey of self discovery, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is all about Wonka.
On the whole I had an enjoyable time watching this film. Wonka’s factory is a world of wonder and wacky, and Deep Roy’s Oompa Loompas are fantastic. Sadly the sound wasn’t terribly clear in the songs, so some of the words were unintelligible.
Younger audiences will find most of the factory scenes entertaining, will lose interest during the flashbacks, and possibly want to leave once Charlie leaves the factory. I am glad that the movie continued beyond the Glass Elevator breaking through the roof, and happy how it wasn’t a simple rounding out of the story. As an adult I found this satisfying, but I don’t think Burton found the right mix of plot and subplot to appease both types of audience.