Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Two-Disc Deluxe Edition) Review
Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) lives in a crowded little house with his desperately poor mother and father (Helena Bonham Carter and Noah Taylor) and their parents, all whilst it collapses about them and the holes in the roof let in the snow. At the far end of the road in which they live - although it's hard to call the patch of wasteland on which they live a road - is Willy Wonka's (Johnny Depp) magnificent chocolate factory, which towers over the town in which Charlie lives as a cathedral to candy. From the factory comes the smell of melting cocoa butter, which sweetens the whiff of the cabbage soup that Charlie's mother cooks nightly. But mystery surrounds Wonka and his chocolate-making from when he dismissed all of his workforce some fifteen years ago amid rumours of industrial spies operating within the factor. Since then, the gates have remained shut but for the delivery trucks that come and go.
Until, that is, posters appear one morning in the town and soon the news spreads across the world that Wonka will allow five lucky children into his factor for one day with only one of the children receiving a special prize. Children, and adults, everywhere buy Wonka bars in search of the Golden Tickets that will allow them entry and soon the first one is found by Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), a greed, rotund German boy who devours almost everything that drifts towards his mouth. Thereafter, tickets two, three and four are found by the greedy and spoilt Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), the competitive Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb) and the violent, media-obsessed Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry) but despite rumours of the fifth ticket being found in Russia, it remains out there, hidden within a Wonka bar, which Charlie thinks can be his if he just keeps on believing...
There are several ways with which to approach a remake or, as this is, a new adaptation of a story. You could simply ignore the existing adaptation, which might be easiest of all given that it would allow you to work with a relatively clean sheet. You might, as Steven Spielberg did with his War Of The Worlds, pay respect to an existing film adaptation by, for example, casting actors from the original film in the new, as he did with Gene Barry and Ann Robinson. Or you could, as Tim Burton did, publicise Charlie And The Chocolate Factory by clearly and gracelessly dismissing an earlier adaptation, in this case 1971's Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory.
Two things struck me during Burton's promoting of his film - one was an interview in which he claimed that, despite what we might think, the 1971 film really wasn't very good, whilst the second was an article on Gene Wilder where he expressed sadness that his reading of Willy Wonka was being so readily dismissed. Despite the lack of respect shown by the director, not only to Wilder and the makers of the earlier film but to those who grew up with Mel Stuart's film, I really don't blame Burton for the stance he took. After all, alongside Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory is a remarkably well-loved children's film in spite of a small number of flaws. And so, hearing that Gene Wilder, whose Willy Wonka gave the 1971 film such spirit, was left saddened by Burton's comments, one feels that the memories that we have shared in our enjoyment of the 1971 film were being needlessly and thoughtlessly disregarded.
Burton, though, need not have sounded quite so worried as he did as his Charlie And The Chocolate Factory works very well and although the 1971 film is not forgotten, the memory of it does not spoil one's enjoyment of this. They are, though, different films with this one being concerned with Charlie Bucket and Willy Wonka's relationships with their families. In that sense, the earlier film was much more interested in presenting only the meat of the Roald Dahl story - Willy Wonka was essentially only looking for an heir to whom he could leave his chocolate-making empire and the film ended almost as soon as Charlie, by default, was awarded that honour. This time, though, Burton is interested in finding out why Wonka is the way that he is and draws out a new story of the young Willy Wonka being the only child of a cavity- and sugar-obsessed dentist, Wilbur Wonka, played by a stately Christopher Lee who's surely enjoying this winter bloom in his career. With Depp, who has appeared to draw on Michael Jackson as much for this role as he did Keith Richards for Pirates Of The Caribbean, Burton has an actor capable of creating a character who, through experience and a sense of growing disappointment, found that the only way for him and for this business to survive was to shut himself in, not only from the world but also from his own memories. With the arrival of the children in his factory, Wonka is prompted to remember his childhood and, eventually, how important family really is.
At times, though, Burton's preoccupation with there having to be a reason for Wonka's isolation and childish temperament causes the film to stutter and, occasionally, stop entirely. By all accounts, Wonka is so well-renowned and famous a figure than an Indian prince has him design and build an entire palace out of chocolate but Depp looks as though he might get lost were he in his own bathroom never mind displaying the kind of creativity and business acumen that has made him the world's foremost chocalatier.
Where Wilder appeared to have his wits sufficiently sharpened to be able to speak in riddles, Depp does so only once in response to being asked a question about why anyone would want a beard. At other times, he's a clumsy, distant presence in the film, which, admittedly, suggests that the actor's approach might be right given that his intention appears to be revealing a disgust of various unpleasant attributes commonly associated with children. There is, though, the basis of the character on Michael Jackson, which is both obvious and most curious. As Jackson hides behind the gates of Neverland, so too does Wonka within his factory whilst Wonka's his high voice, pale skin and attachment to children all hint at the troubled singer. So close is Wonka to Jackson that I'm not entirely sure that we should be so happy for Charlie, given that his special prize may be a lifetime of molestation.
Speaking of which, much has been made of this being a frightening film, almost, say some reviews, being too terrifying for very young children but my two eldest thoroughly enjoyed it, screaming with laughter as Depp walked into the glass doors of the Wonkavator. Despite the terrors of the film - Augustus Gloop disappearing up a pipe, Violet Beauregarde swelling and turning violet and Veruca Salt (Julia Winter) being pushed down a garbage chute by squirrels - children know that the film is largely a fable and that despite the glee with which Wonka greets each lost child, they have come to little harm. Even as Mike Teavee leaves the factory seven feet tall and paper-thin, children tend towards a belief that he is fundamentally alright and that time, being a great healer, will see him revert back to his noisy, aggressive self. Indeed, I'm sure that my daughter won't be the only viewer who considered the Violet Beauregarde who left the factory to be an improvement over the one that went in for although she remained violet, I was informed that by being more flexible, she would be a better gymnast and ballet dancer. There is, and this requires yet another comparison with the 1971 film, nothing in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory as graphic and as disturbing as the sight of a chicken having its head chopped off nor of a man with a centipede crawling of his mouth, both of which played in the background as Gene Wilder's Wonka took his visitors in their little boat trip through the factory.
But it is mostly a triumph for Burton, with the design of the film being quite remarkable at times, never more so than in the design of the chocolate-and-candy meadow within Wonka's factory, Charlie's house and the town in which it and the factory sit. Equally impressive are those sequences in which the film springs to life, such as the first two songs by the Oompa-Loompas and the first meeting between Wonka and his guests at the door of the factory, which, though not quite on a par with the appearance of Gene Wilder in the 1971 film, is still a joy. The Oompa-Loompas, digitally created from only one actor, Deep Roy, who some of you may remember as Princess Aurora's Pet in Flash Gordon, are the equal of those in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory but, annoyingly, the songs are not as memorable, despite Augustus Gloop being so close to Fleetwood Mac's Tusk that I expected to hear, "Real savage like!" within the song. The narration by Geoffrey Holder, Baron Samedi in Live and Let Die is, though, less successful and could have been cut from the film, particularly as it sounds to have been badly dropped in pitch.
It ends beautifully, though, with a cold winter's setting outside of Charlie's house that is at odds with the familial warmth within it, almost as all good Christmas films should. Whether it will replace the 1971 film as a Christmas film of choice is only something that time will tell. For now, I'll be sticking with the 1971 version as my preferred telling of the Roald Dahl tale but twenty or so years from now, we might be finding a new generation who prefer Johnny Depp's quirky Wonka to Wilder's sadist.
With no extra features on Disc One with the exception of a theatrical trailer, the film has been given as much bandwidth as is necessary and, as a result, the picture looks wonderful. The encoding of the film handles the early, muted scenes just as well as it does the later, more colourful workings within Wonka's factory with the entire film being pin-sharp with a level of detail that ought to trouble the DVD but simply doesn't.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is just as good but, excepting the songs by the Oompa-Loompas, has much greater impact in the early scenes outside of the factory than within it. There's good use of the surrounds during the inital fly-by and through the factory as well as of the wind whistling through Charlie's house with Augustus Gloop being a particular highlight.
Theatrical Trailer (2m27s): Playing excerpts from the film largely in order, this is a rather ordinary film trailer that won't convince anyone to watch the film.
Attack of the Squirrels (9m49s): Smart but incredibly difficult to train...certainly not actors but squirrels. Featuring interviews with director Tim Burton and Head Animal Trainer, Michael Alexander, this demonstrates the dificulity in teaching a squirrel to open a nut and not to chew it as well as to push a little rich girl and her father into a garbage chute.
Fantastic Mr Dahl (17m41s): Other than narrator Alan Yentob, Sophie Dahl is the main presence in this documentary that looks back at the life of Roald Dahl, the famous children's author on whose novel Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is based but she is only one of a number of relatives of Dahl's that make an appearance. There isn't a lot of insight into Dahl's life, more that his family and such friends as Quentin Blake read from his works and recount their memories of the man, which ends beautifully with a quote from The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me.
Becoming Oompa-Loompa (7m17s): Deep Roy is, of course, the star of this feature, which describes how he became 165 Oompa-Loompas by learning to be a dancer, a guitarist, a drummer and a singer as well as how uncannily realistic animatronic Deep Roys were used in the film.
Making The Mix: This is a making-of by a slightly different name and comes broken into such chunky pieces as Chocolate Dreams (Basis of the film, 6m57s), Different Faces, Different Flavors (casting, 10m39s), Sweet Sounds (music, 7m17s), Designer Chocolate (costume and set design, 9m35s) and Under The Wrapper (production, 6m58s). It's very complete and most of the main cast and crew have been interviewed but you'll learn very little unless it's that everyone had a great time making the film and that Dahl's widow feels that Burton and Depp have added greatly to her deceased husband's novel. That's the kind of goodwill you just can't buy but perhaps you should given that a year or two from now, she'll probably want to retract the statement and a money-back guarantee would have made it that much easier.
DVD-ROM: After installing the Interactual Player, which you may question doing after seeing the paucity of features on the disc, you can either be redirected to various Warner Brothers' online content or install the demo of the Charlie And The Chocolate Factory game for PC, which is available without the player should you just explore the DVD.
Oompa-Loompa Dance: Want to learn to dance like an Oompa-Loompa, well this goes some way to showing you how but it's more of a dancing game within the DVD. Keep pressing the right buttons on your remote control and you'll keep Deep Roy dancing but misstep and you'll having the Oompa-Loompa on his back.
The Bad Nut: Be a squirrel as you determine which nuts are bad and which are good in this simple little game that asks you to sort the good from the bad.
The Inventing Machine: Take the opportunity to mix Cinammon Farts and Phlegm Bruless in Willy Wonka's inventing machine and have an Oompa-Loompa taste the concoction. Be honest and admit that you'll go for the least appetising flavours first!
Search For The Golden Ticket: Help Charlie, Mike, Violet, Augustus and Veruca find their golden tickets via a game for each lucky child. Over three rounds each, Mike must work out the route taken from Wonka's factory, Charlie must find some money, Violet's gotta chew, Augustus must eat chocolate and Veruca had better get sorting the boxes of nuts in her daddy's factory. There's much use of the remote control and Augustus's challenge can get one's head spinning at times but invite someone round who's a dab hand on the Playstation and a golden ticket might be yours.
There's a scene in the film - Mike Teavee calls it right - that's entirely pointless, in which various Oompa-Loompas fire grenades at targets, over the din of which Charlie says, "Candy doesn't have to have a point, that's why it's candy!" At first, I thought that was a rather sweet sentiment but it's also entirely wrong - a bag of white chocolate mice, a KitKat or even a set of chocolate tools at Christmas are there simply to enjoy with the only condition being a very minor one of health.
But that's not only why the scene is so wrong - Burton has produced a film that owes much to the book but also one that he wants us to marvel at. The problem is, though, that in a year where such films as Robots and The Incredibles are now feasible, there's not much to marvel at here, particularly as one can spot how the same footage of Deep Roy has been used numerous times in different scenes, much like the space battles in Battlestar Galactica.
The 1971 film, though, had that right - it didn't look to tell us why Wonka is the man that he is, quite unlike this film, it was there, like a bag of sweets, to just enjoy. Children have quite enough people telling them what to do already, which is why Dahl's naughty tales strike such a chord with them and why I think they'll still have fun with the 1971 film, with its gleeful punishments and near-death experience for Charlie and Grandpa Joe, than this film. Will children really care why Wonka turned out as he did? I think not but, equally, it's handled much too simply for adults to really appreciate, which probably explains Charlie's thoughts on candy - sweet...very, very sweet and nice to look at but pointless.
Last updated: 16/05/2018 19:01:59