Remake of Dahl's classic is bizarre and over-the-top
It takes serious guts to take something as imaginative as a Roald Dahl classic, and turn it into a motion picture. It is especially brave to take on "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," arguably the most whimsical of Dahl's works, in an endeavor to match the boundless imaginations of children and adults who have read the book. The first brave soul to tackle the feat was Mel Stuart, director of the 1971 film, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." With his mysterious and eccentric Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) and equally agreeable Charlie Bucket and Grandpa Joe (Peter Ostrum and Jack Albertson, respectively), Stuart was able to produce a masterpiece still widely appreciated today. "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" stayed true to Dahl's details, and succeeded in capturing the novel's idiosyncratic nature.
Johnny Depp plays the new Willy Wonka, a whacked-out and thoroughly peculiar chocolate factory owner who invites five children at random to visit his factory. The factory has been closed for many years, as Wonka found recipe-stealing chocolate workers inside his establishment. Now, he needs someone with great imagination and high spirits to continue to run the factory — one of the five children. Our main man is Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), a boy who remains magnanimous even under his humble circumstances. Charlie's wildest dreams are realized when he finds a golden ticket in a "Wonka Bar" he buys — an invitation to visit Willy Wonka's chocolate factory with four other lucky children from around the world.
Instantly, the factory gives off an irksome essence when an eerie mechanical puppet show ends in flames, and Wonka emerges with an absurd outfit behind the awestruck children. But under the tight purple gloves and enormous goggles stands a Wonka who in this rendition has gone overboard with the role. Dahl was specific in his description of Wonka, and it certainly was not a young effeminate man with creepily straight teeth and a painfully girlish haircut. Depp's exaggerated character is overdone throughout the film, and way too much emphasis is put upon Wonka's past. Part of Wonka's charm in Dahl's writing is the mystery behind the unusual man, and how he came to be so quirky. Here, the ambiguity is crushed under the ridiculous premise of Wonka's evil dentist-father and lack of family connections. Depp seems to force his weirdness with each line, completely missing the subtly strange quips so memorable in Stuart's version.
The gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), television-crazed Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry), and spoiled Veruca Salt (Julia Winter) stay true to Stuart's interpretation, finishing themselves off one by one in the factory through their hopeless flaws. Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb), the gum-chewing addict, has a much-needed changeup in character in the film, as Burton adds an exceedingly competitive side to both Violet and her Botox-injected mother. The unplanned departures of these four children are comical, even an improvement upon Stuart's direction — that is, until the frightening Oompa Loompas (Deep Roy) arrive to dance and sing gleefully when the children disappear.
The film is solid; it has a beginning, end, problem and solution. There are hilarious lines, and unique characters. It certainly isn't a boring chunk of time; in fact, it's quite enjoyable. But the line must be drawn somewhere when considering the movie's overall feel. Surely Roald Dahl would not be pleased that Willy Wonka's past is given away, or that his ingenious "half-room" is replaced by heinous haircuts and hikes to Dr. Wonka's dentistry. It is the clever delicacy present in Stuart's design that is so lacking in Burton's.
Expect to be entertained and satisfied with this flick, but do not anticipate the subtle peculiarities that made the first interpretation so memorable.
"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (115 minutes) is rated PG for quirky situations, action and mild language.
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