Helena Bonham Carter
CHARLIE AND THE
In 2005, Tim Burton released his unique take on Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starring Johnny Depp as mysterious chocolatier Willy Wonka, who invites 5 lucky Golden Ticket winners to visit his strange factory.
Remaking a classic like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was always going to be a risky move but, if one person could put their own off-beat spin on such a well known story, Tim Burton was the guy. Coming off his first big critical defeat (Planet Of The Apes) and the more personal, lower-key Big Fish, this was set, along with Corpse Bride (released the same year) to be Tim Burton's first big adaptation since Sleepy Hollow and, perhaps, a return to form. The film was a commercial success receiving generally favorable reviews.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory breaks with the original film as it's not really a musical adaptation, despite the obligatory Oompa Loompa songs, and attempts to stay closer to the original story in a few more ways. Burton's style is very much its own character here as we are introduced to the titular factory in slick fashion with the excellent Danny Elfman theme luring us into the heart of the chocolate-making factory. We then meet our new Charlie, played by Freddie Highmore, who captures the character's inherent goodness and innocence but fails to convince emotionally or stand out as the film's lead. The entire supporting cast, in fact, feels surprisingly bland compared to the old Gene Wilder-starrer.
Even Johnny Depp, whose Michael Jackson impression is certainly off-kilter, struggles to give his character more than one dimension. The cast certainly look the part but we never feel like these are real people, and as caricatures they don't really do or say anything that funny. The almost on-purpose weak script really hurts this film by not giving the cast anything genuinely amusing or clever to work with. There are jokes but they are all eye-rollingly bad and the constant flashbacks don't help with the already on-and-off pacing. The build-up to the factory, in consequence, is unexciting and, once we're in there, things definitely get silly and weird but never actually funny. Gene Wilder could effortlessly, with a single look or well delivered line, tell you a lot about his character and make you laugh. Depp tries very hard but, ultimately, this characterization comes off as a misstep and the actor has a tough time making it stick.
The movie is saved by how eager-to-please it is, its colorful visuals and the ever-reliable Danny Elfman, who is clearly doing a million things in this movie (he's the voice of every single Oompa Loompa AND does the score), to the point where the composer/singer feels overwhelmed here, especially when you know he was working on Corpse Bride at the same time. The result is a solid score and a bunch of songs that each are a bit of a mess but which you look forward to nonetheless. When they happen, they are good fun but you won't remember much about them soon after. The idea to have Deep Roy be every Oompa Loompa was a funny one but having different-looking Oompa Loompas allowed for nifty harmonizing which doesn't really work here. The effects are good for the time, but the CG hasn't aged that well and the green screen stuff can be clunky at times.
The decision to introduce a backstory for Wonka by reuniting him with his father (Christopher Lee graciously cameoing) was an interesting one but it is not done well here as this story is told through lots of flashbacks and the payoff is barely rewarding on an emotional level. It's cute but not something that was worth interrupting the pace of the film constantly for. The film might have been better off as a full prequel or as a straight-up remake because this hybrid is just irritating, even if the flashbacks by themselves are done well. Even visually, though this is a colorful flick, one would expect something a tad more interesting from Burton.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory certainly had everything it needed to be a worthy reimagining of the classic story but Tim Burton and the cast just couldn't elevate the heartbreakingly poor script. What you're left with, alas, is an appealingly odd candy shell of a movie with nothing inside.
Got the Copper Ticket that time, didn't we?