Worth A Look: 37.33%
Pretty Bad: 9.33%
Total Crap: 7.56%
15 reviews, 135 user ratings
|Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by Scott Weinberg
Well oompa my loompa, look who went out and remade "The Chocolate Factory" -- and did such a dazzling job! We're talking, of course, about the mad genius filmmaker known as Tim Burton, the always wonderfully unique Johnny Depp, the exceedingly smart screenwriter known as John August, and crazy composer Danny Elfman, who delivers one of his best scores in ten years. Great for grown-ups, perfect for kids, and just weird enough to bring in all the cynical movie geeks, "Charlie" is a perfect example of why "sweet" is a compliment and "saccharine" is not.I pity today's young parents. I mean, there you are desperately trying to introduce a 6-year-old to the "love of movies" -- and all you have to choose from are Herbie: Fully Loaded, Headache Girl and Migraine Boy in the Land of Excedrin, some movie co-starring Martin Lawrence and a basketball, or (another) night spent with the Incredibles DVD. For a parent trying to treat their children to the "wide-eyed dazzlement" of a night at the movies, your choices are irritatingly sparse.
"Kids will eat it up -- and the parents will snack right along with 'em."
But here comes kooky old Tim Burton to change that tune. Not only does his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remain true to Roald Dahl's brilliant source material while (slightly) hearkening back to the classic 1971 adaptation we all know by heart -- but on its own and divorced entirely from any previous work, this is a brilliantly entertaining family flick. It's slick, shiny, and sweet. It's loaded with eye candy and wonderfully funny performances. It's got precisely what a movie needs to keep parents entertained and kiddies enthralled ... but, sad to say, it's got a few rough spots, too.
Plot-wise, here's what we got, and this is the mega-truncated edition: Willy Wonka owns a massive and mysterious chocolate factory. After a long time in retirement, Wonka re-opens his palace and invites five random kids to have a tour through the freaky facility. Charlie Bucket is the only sweepstakes winner who's actually sweet and kindhearted, which means that the other four children are about to teach us a variety of lessons on the dangers of gluttony, greed, arrogance, and plain old rudeness.
(Dear Reader: If you really do need a full-on plot synopsis of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you absolutely need to sit down and read Dahl's original story. Or better yet, go see this movie "blind" and then read the book after. And then rent the Gene Wilder version. They're all pretty darn great.)
Two nitpicks I'll get out of the way right now so I can wrap this review up like the movie deserves: enthusiastic praise and my command that you go see it:
1. For a somewhat silly reason, Mr. Burton and Mr. August have decided that Willy Wonka needs a "backstory" of some kind. Not a bad idea, I suppose, but this flick simply doesn't need it. Plus the flashback sequences, which deal with young, mega-brace-faced Willy and his perpetually disapproving dentist of a father, aren't really all that interesting. Better to leave Willy Wonka as a more mysterious kook and not to "explain away" his eccentricities ... but it's a small nitpick in the grand scheme of the movie.
2. After a flawless first act, the movie brings us deep into the Wonka factory, and the numerous scenes that deal with each rotten kid as they get their well-deserved come-uppances. And here's where the movie gets very episodic; it feels like you're watching a short series of barely connected set pieces that have virtually no connective tissue to the "larger adventure" at hand. I suspect that my #1 complaint (the frequent and largely unnecessary flashbacks) are what split the movie into several slices, when I was hoping to dig right into an entire cake.
And those two components represent the whole of what's wrong with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, if it's me you're asking. Virtually everything else is grade-A flawless across the board.
Production designer Alex McDowell delivers some dizzying stuff here, and cinematographer Philippe Rousselot shoots it all with style and grace. Composer Danny Elfman contributes one of his very best scores in a very long time, in addition to a half-dozen Oompa Loompa tunes that are as funny as they are weird.
As Charlie, Freddie Highmore needs to be the heart and soul of this bizarre little story, and the kid does a wonderful job. Depp is clearly having a ball as the overwhelmingly off-kilter Willy, creating a character you might not like in a traditional way, but you will find him pretty darn fascinating. Playing various guardians that chaperone the kids through the factory, we have the stately and classy David Kelly, the strangely hilarious Missi Pyle, the ever-snooty James Fox... oh, and let's not forget the darling little children!
Annasophia Robb as the ultra-competitive and rather obnoxious Violet Beauregard; Julia Winter as the astronomically spoiled Veruca Salt; Philip Wiegratz as the cartoonishly gluttonous Augustus Gloop; and Jordan Fry as the high-tech snotnose Mike Teavee ... they're all great, and each one gets a little scene or two that they're allowed to steal.
Adapting such a beloved tale is a monumental responsibility, and let's credit screenwriter John August for a seriously superlative job. The mini-morality tales are tucked in quite cleverly, and they never once get in the way of the chaotic fun. The screenplay is full of jokes both broad and subtle, which is an indication of a writer intent on balancing the "kid's stuff" with something a bit meatier for mom and dad. Tim Burton will end up getting most of the credit for this film's success, but without the foundation laid by August (and whichever uncredited screenwriters there might have been), this movie could have been just another loud, flashy, and garish free-for-all. (True, the "dad flashback" sequences are all the screenwriter's original work, but like I said before: the few small speed bumps don't come close to ruining this ride.)Cheery, crazy, very funny, and (of course) just a little bit dark, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is a great rendition of a classic old story. This is a perfect example of how to take a well-established tale and re-tell it for a whole new generation. Here's hoping the 2039 version is even half this much fun.
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originally posted: 07/15/05 19:53:41