Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Disappointment In A Candy-Smudged Wrapper: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory Slips For Tim Burton.

The Good: Johnny Depp is good, Moments of intriguing visuals
The Bad: Terrible music, Awkward pacing, Uninspired acting, Oppressively unoriginal
The Basics: With distractingly bad music and uninspired acting this remake is a dud. And not a good kind, like a Milk Dud.

Tim Burton has talent and if one does not believe me, they need only to watch Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Batman Returns to realize that I'm right. Unfortunately, Burton's talent seems to be stuck. While Big Fish was mediocre, Burton's vision of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is flat-out disappointing.

Living in the poorest section of the city dominated by Wonka Chocolates is Charlie Bucket. Charlie is just a poor boy with nothing to set him apart but his poverty. When the mysterious Willy Wonka offers a tour of his plant to the recipients of five golden tickets hidden in his chocolate bars, Charlie seems unlikely to have any hope of finding one. And yet, of course, he does. Charlie finds a golden ticket and soon he is entering Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

Accompanied by the obese Augustus, the gum-chewing Violet, the snotty Veruca and the television-obsessed Mike Teavee, Charlie is allowed inside the chocolate factory. However, this is anything but the typical chocolate factory. It is a magical community where confections are experimented to perfection and the reclusive eccentric Willy Wonka lives with his army of Oompa Loompas. As the tour of the factory progresses, the children give in to their specific vices and Charlie is made an offer that would otherwise be quite astounding.

There is a certain irony to the title of this movie and it is quite simple. Like the novel, this is Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Unlike the earlier film version, which was Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, which focused heavily on Charlie, this incarnation focuses quite heavily on Willy Wonka.

Which leads us to the fundamental problem with Tim Burton's Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. As Burton's vision, Wonka is given a motivation for his eccentricities and if you've seen a few of Burton's movies you know the reason has to be parent issues. Willy was criticized and emotionally abandoned by his father, a dentist and . . . okay, who cares? It's the same story Burton is always telling. Unfortunately, the predictability of Burton's cause for conflict leads viewers who have seen many of his other projects to be disappointed. It's not a bad thing to make Wonka a more fleshed out character, but the method is just tired.

And this is on top of other, more serious problems unique to this particular film. The first is that while the film relies - often successfully - on stunning visuals, the film's composer, Danny Elfman seems to be in a similar rut to Burton. Elfman is known to create masterful and haunting scores that work very well with Burton's visual sense. Elfman creates the winter of Gotham City in Batman Returns far better than any of the snow Burton created on the set. In Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, the music is unmemorable.

Except for the Oompa Loompa songs. The Oompa Loompa songs are entirely terrible. Jazzed or rocked up, the Oompa Loompas sing about the demise of the various children and the music that accompanies them is more loud than funny or poignant. It's not clever, it's not catchy, it's barely music and this costs the film a great deal of impact or interest.

The other big problem is the acting. Far too much of the story relies on the acting of child actors and they fail to deliver. Freddie Highmore lacks the charm and charisma of the actor that played Charlie in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. While on screen, his performance is stiff and often painfully unrealistic. The children that play Violet, Veruca, Mike and Augustus are equally uncharismatic.

What saves the movie at all is Johnny Depp. Playing Wonka as weird and delightful, disturbed and invigorated, Depp steals the spotlight from the moment he appears on-screen. No one else comes close to making the movie watchable and Depp's performance keeps this from being a complete waste of time.

Deep Roy, who plays the Oompa Loompas, does fine, though much of his time on-screen is participating in the terrible musical numbers.

Geared overly for children, this movie robs the characters of their ambiguities. All of the kids but Charlie are rotten, Charlie is ultimate good. Removing a key scene from the beginning of the movie, which was present in the book and the other film, sets us a series of absolutes, which makes the ending completely unsurprising, even for those who never read the novel or saw the other film.

Both the book, which is creepy and clever, and the film adaptation known as Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory are vastly superior to this version.

For other films featuring Johnny Depp, please visit my reviews of:
Alice In Wonderland
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
Edward Scissorhands


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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