Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Review
By Joe Lozito
Ignoring for a second that there was no need to remake 1971's "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory", the notion of director Tim Burton bringing his unique imagination to the Roald Dahl story is intriguing. And for a while, Mr. Burton's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
" recaptures some of that old Burton magic, missing so long from his recent films.
The art direction in "Charlie" is absolutely stunning. Wonka's factory is truly a wonder to behold and even the scenes in Charlie's dilapidated house are as good as anything from "Edward Scissorhands" or "Beetle Juice". Sadly, it might have been a better idea to have Mr. Burton's team simply illustrate Mr. Dahl's book rather than make a whole movie.
Taking on the unenviable task of following in Gene Wilder's footsteps, Johnny Depp takes his first misstep in recent memory as Wonka. After Mr. Depp turned the potentially throwaway role of Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean" into a full-on hoot, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for the first half of the film. But his Wonka is simply one poor choice after another. With a pageboy haircut, pale skin and a voice that recalls Dustin Hoffman as "Tootsie", Mr. Depp's Wonka exudes none of the gravity required for the role. It's as though he didn't take the role seriously. Rather than an intimidating candyman teaching brats a lesson, this Wonka is simply a freak.
It is simultaneously unfair and unavoidable to compare Johnny Depp's performance with that of Gene Wilder. Occasionally, Mr. Burton will focus on his star in a wordless moment and there will be a hint of the performance that could have been. For some reason, though, Mr. Depp simply turns Wonka into a goofball. While Mr. Wilder's Wonka existed in his own world, Mr. Depp's is from another planet. Which makes it all the more odd when writer John August tries to humanize him with a tacked on Freudian backstory about a domineering dentist father played by Christopher Lee (though it is a joy to hear Mr. Lee say "lollipop"). Why is it necessary to make Wonka's motivation so clear? It's more interesting not to understand him completely.
Amusingly, Freddie Highmore, Mr. Depp's costar from "Finding Neverland", turns in the film's finest performance as Charlie, but he's shouting into the wind. He exists in his own film.
Mr. Burton and Mr. August return to Dahl's original title but unfortunately update the sensibility. The original "Chocolate Factory" existed in a more innocent time when parents could be dumbstruck by the mangling of their children by a mysterious recluse. Now, watching Augustus Gloop sucked into a fudge-maker or Violet Beauregarde blown into a huge blueberry (perhaps the worst effect in the film), one wonders which parent will sue first. Or if there will just be one huge class action suit against Wonka. At least we know, with the right lawyers, he'll probably be back making chocolate in no time. Mr. Dahl would have appreciated that.