Charlie & the Chocolate Factory

Normally I wouldn't review a remake of a movie by comparing it to the original. Generally, a filmmaker, although trying to re-create something, is trying to make a film in his or her own way. They do not set out to try and out-do the previous filmmaker's art. It is simply for the love of film. However in this case I will bend my rule a little being that the original film is #48 in my top 100 films of all time and is also one of the first, if not the first film to be remade from my generation. Granted this film was made well before I was born, but my friends and I watched the original film many many times when we were young. So to say it is from my generation isn't technically accurate, it never-the-less was a huge movie of my childhood; more-so anyway than say..."Planet of the Apes." Which came out just a couple years before "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory."

     So to begin with, I basically liked this reincarnation of an old favorite. Supposedly more true to the book (which I've never read) than a re-make of the original film. Although most of it is basically the same. In fact, some of it is word-for-word the same. Some of the orignal story (from now on, when I say "original story," I am referring to the original film with Gene Wilder) has been removed and new elements added. For instance, the entire general storyline about the kids getting hold of an everlasting gobstopper for Slugworth Sizzler in exchange for mucho mullah has been removed. That bugged me. There was no conflict the children had to deal with internally (besides their own terrible behavior). It was just a trip through a chocolate factory. I did like the bits of story that were added however. A back story of Willy Wonka's childhood and a trip to Loompa-land, for example, was a real treat. We see how the Oompa Loompas lived and a short battle with the rotten vermicious knids.

     Besides the three main stars: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore and David Kelly, whom I will get to in a second, the acting really wasn't all that great. That includes all of the other children and their parents. It wasn't bad, but I longed to see the original Veruca Salt and Mike TeeVee et al. They're presence was really lacking here; and the new kids were devoid of any real character.

     Like I said, that excludes Highmore and Depp. Freddie Highmore is right on par with Dakota Fanning as this generation's most gifted child actor. He crushes even most of the adult acting competition out there (see Finding Neverland). Fantastic job as innocent and caring Charlie Bucket. This brings us to Johnny Depp as the infamous Willy Wonka. He did a wonderful job in bringing this character to life in a new and...well, twisted way. His melancholic, almost psychotic, behavior was a spark of fantastication, but still not as genius as Wilder's take of the character; and not as funny either. Many critics have equated him to Michael Jackson sans the pedophilia. Actually, the analogy fits quite well. Fun, but no where near what Wilder brought to the character.

     One of the more famous scenes of the original was the crazy psychodelic boat ride. In this film, that was the one scene I was most looking forward to seeing. Interested to see how much better, creepier and weird it could be. Especially after seeing the trailer for this movie and getting kind of an odd psychodelic feel for this version of Wonka. But alas, the boat ride was fairly boring. It was a little more intense in that it was digitally done so we could see the boat careening and spinning down the chocolate river at intense speeds. But there was none of the unexplainable paranoia from the first film; i.e. seeing images of worms and chickens having their heads cut off while Wilder sings a haunting tune of death, despair and uncertainty. Anyway, something that I was looking forward to that ended up being nothing.

     I had no idea whether this film was going to be a musical or not. It became apparent almost right away that it would not be. Then I started to wonder that since it isn't a musical, if the Oompa Loompas (who by the way are digitally cloned so that each one is the same person - and they are tiny too, not just midgets) would even sing their trademark songs for each child as they succumb to their sugary demise. Here is an area of the film I'm not sure if I liked or not. The Oompa Loompas did in fact sing their songs. But each one had a different tune and in fact, each had its own completely unique musical style. From heavy metal to country to a boppy 70s version among others. You can make up your own mind if this is good or bad.

     No green screens! One of the best things about this movie (and Tim Burton's films in general) was the lack of digital effects. Oh sure there were a few digital f/x shots for things that would be nearly impossible otherwise. But all the sets were real. Including the chocolate river. Yes, the river really is made of real chocolate! I think more movies should be made this way. It looks so much more "real." The snozzberries really do taste like snozzberries in Tim Burton's world.

     Overall, I think Burton should have left this one alone. It was kinda fun and I liked it, but the more and more I think about it, the more and more I love the original sooo much better. Burton is a far better storyteller when he comes up with his own stuff (Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish). This film just felt so empty to me. It was not all I was hoping for. I'll close with a quote from film critic Rob Vaux concerning this movie:

          "It's drenched with corporate affectation, heavy on the bells and whistles, but light on genuine soul."

An interview with Johnny Depp
Official Page for the Chocolate Factory
The original Willy Wonka site w/Gene Wilder

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