Charlie & the Chocolate Factory
directed by Tim Burton
(Warner Bros., 2005)

The music: Not as good as the Anthony Newley stuff in the original.

The kids: Perhaps not quite as annoying as the whiners in 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, but still may reach that level of notoriety after repeated viewings.

Willy Wonka himself: Just weird. Not hyperactive weird like Gene Wilder, but more germophobic, I-loathe-children odd in the hands of Johnny Depp.

When you have an isolated chocolatier who abhors and fears the demographic that makes up his customer base, you have a "kids' movie" that really isn't as much for little kids as it is for the rest of us, the ones who giggle guiltily when Augustus Gloop asks Wonka, "Don't you want to know our names?" and Wonka answers, "I can't see how it would matter."

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory is a showcase for Depp. He had to figure out how to put a Wonka onscreen that could hold its own against Wilder's 34-year-old portrayal of the candy man without paying too much homage. For a certain segment, it's like gearing up to go against Olivier as Hamlet, if Hamlet had never been attempted before or since 1948.

Well, a Hamlet with singing Oompa Loompas in his court.

So, wisely, Depp goes for a facetiously chirpy falsetto, a bobbed haircut and creepily perfect teeth. He's not Wilder (there's no song about "pure imagination"), and in this production, it works.

Screenwriter John August has added a backstory for Wonka, all tragic childhood and cruel dentist father (no Halloween candy for poor little Willy) that partially explains Wonka's aversion to parents and children and messy things like families.

But what we really care about, in the end, still is Charlie (Freddie Hightower) and the adoration he holds for his destitute parents and the four grandparents who are holed up sharing a bed in the family's tumbledown house.

When Willy offers Charlie the candy factory -- with the stipulation that Charlie leave those bothersome family members behind -- Charlie refuses. How could he leave all that love and sacrifice for something like money?

In the end, of course, even Willy sees the light and gains a family.

But killer squirrels and morals-of-the-story aside, Charlie is a film that, like many Tim Burton movies, doesn't ignore the darker side of childhood and children -- but it never loses sight of the bright spots, either. As Charlie says, "Candy doesn't have to have a point. That's why it's candy."

by Jen Kopf
8 July 2006

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