Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

***1/2

Reviewed by: George Williamson

Liz Smith as Grandma Georgina with the cast of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
"It's a slick and intoxicating vision to say the least."

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, directed by Tim Burton, starring Johnny Depp, as the master chocolatier Willy Wonka, sounds pretty good as a combination. Burton has gone from quirky indie goth oddmonger to mainstream oddmonger and Depp seems to do pretty much anything, as long as it's edgy and weird. Adding this to a zillion dollars of backing money, Martin Scorsese's costume designer and the visual effects brilliance of Big Fish and you know where this is going. It's a slick and intoxicating vision to say the least.

Roald Dahl's story of Willy Wonka, confectionary wizard, opening the doors of his magnificent chocolate factory to five lucky individuals, is an undisputed classic of children's' literature and Burton's version mostly adheres to the original book. Four undeserving brats and the innocent Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) enter the factory and soon all but the doe-eyed waif bring themselves to a very sticky end. As they sample Wonka's sweet inventions, from the never-melting ice cream and nut crunch surprise chocolate to the full-meal gum and everlasting gobstoppers, they fall prey to their weaknesses and are carted away, as the Oompa Loompas, Wonka's army of cocoa worshipping manikins, sing of the moral lessons to be learned.

Copy picture

The film lives up to the sugar-coated cautionary tale. However, a generous splash of Dahl's dark undercurrent remains intact, especially in the pre-factory sections. The brats who find the first four golden tickets are beautifully waxwork and weird - the casting is almost all perfect and the chocolate factory itself beautifully realised; the incredible CGI nut-sorting squirrels and the PVC clad Oompa Loompa musical numbers, from the Busby Berkeley madness of Augustus Gloop's tube-shoot in the chocolate gardens to the MTV channel surfing montage of Mike Teavee's inevitable miniaturisation, are fantastic. The production and sound design is immaculate, with the outside world resembling the beautifully realised photocopy suburbia of Edward Scissorhands and inside the factory recalling the lavish visual theatrics of Big Fish, all glued together by Danny Elfman's instantly recognisable score.

The film's biggest letdown is Depp's interpretation of Wonka, which eclipses the rest of the actors, and, worse still, isn't very convincing. The influence of his previous roles in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Pirates Of The Caribbean and Sleepy Hollow weigh heavily and he fills too much of the screen. The tacked on - understandable and necessary in order to make the ending work - parental back-story serves as an excuse to plunge Depp into jarring and dislocated periods of flashback, which don't gel with the rest of the film. The plausible brilliance of Christopher Lee, as Willy's dentist father, drags a degree of reality into the proceedings that undermines the fairytale, making it feel more generic, as well as sugaring up the ending for an audience that apparently cannot tolerate anything with even a dash of ambiguity, or a morsel of moral uncertainty.

The chocolate factory is definitely better than the Quaker-sponsored Seventies version, but in the arena of acting Depp lacks Gene Wilder's marvellous energy and silver-tongued delivery. Even after watching Depp's darker and more Dahlish Wonka, Wilder's still the real thing, and although this is a smashing summer blockbuster, it's not quite the definitive Charlie that might have been hoped for.

Reviewed on: 31 Jul 2005
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Charlie And The Chocolate Factory packshot
Extravagant remake of the Roald Dahl story about a boy who wins a Golden Ticket visit to an eccentric millionaire's sweet factory.
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Read more Charlie And The Chocolate Factory reviews:

Kotleta ****
Scott Macdonald ***
Amber Wilkinson ***

Director: Tim Burton

Writer: John August, based on the book by Roald Dahl

Starring: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Missi Pyle, James Fox, Deep Roy, Christopher Lee, Adam Godley, Franziska Troegner, Annasophia Robb, Julia Winter, Jordan Fry, Philip Wiegratz, Blair Dunlop

Year: 2005

Runtime: 115 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: USA


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