It seems that everyone who is reviewing the new movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory feels compelled to compare it to the 1971 film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. There’s no need. They are different films and no comparisons are required. They stand apart and separate and should remain so. This work, directed by Tim Burton and staring Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly and Helena Bonham Carter, is worthy of being evaluated on its own merits.
Like the Roald Dahl novel, this is Charlie’s story and we should all be grateful to Johnny Depp for insisting that Freddie Highmore be cast in the role of Charlie. Depp had worked with Highmore in the critically acclaimed Finding Neverland and was so impressed with his effort there that he convinced Burton to cast him. It was a wise move on both their parts as he was the perfect choice for this critical role. Highmore brings the right amount of innocence, wonder, excitement and maturity beyond his years to the part that is required by John August’s adaptation of Dahl’s book.
The story is, of course, little changed from Dahl’s brilliant tale. Charlie lives with his parent and four grandparents in a little wooden house on the edge of the big city where the gigantic candy factory of the great Willie Wonka is located. They are very poor, but happy in their poverty. While the factory is still operating and candy is being shipped out, the gates were shut and locked years earlier, after Mr. Wonka grew tired of his competitors sending in spies to steal his secret recipes. No one knows how he is continuing to operate; it is one of the great mysteries of the world.
Then suddenly without warning comes the announcement that the Wonka factory is going to be opened to five and only five children, accompanied by one adult guardian, and that the children will be those five who are the lucky finders of golden tickets which have been hidden inside Wonka candy bars. Soon, four of the most unlikable children you can imagine, Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde and Mike Teevee, have found golden tickets and there is only one left. Charlie wants a golden ticket, but his annual birthday bar of candy didn’t contain one, nor does an extra bar he buys with a hidden stash of cash he gets from Grandpa Joe. However, as the story is told in the book, Charlie finds some money in the street, buys more candy and finds that last golden ticket on the day before the factory is to be opened up and so he and Grandpa Joe (who arises for bed for the first time in years) head off and they and the others get to meet the man, Willie Wonka.
I liked Johnny Depp’s take on Wonka. He was a bit off-center, a bit odd, and at times, seemed to enjoy the fates of the four rude children as they toured his wonderful, magical factory, filled with amazing sights and tastes that are almost too much for even a child’s mind to comprehend. This telling of the tale doesn’t follow the book in lockstep fashion, adds things that actually enhance the story, and in the end gives the viewer a pleasing and enjoyable experience.
The visuals were as close to perfect as they can be in this kind of film, with great use of color and contrast, particularly in the Wonkavision and Nut sorting rooms. Danny Elfman’s musical scoring fits the film better than a tight dress on a fashion model.
Don’t miss Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Just be sure to take something sweet into the theater with you.