Starring Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Deep Roy and Fu Manchu.
Directed by Tim Burton.
When the first trailer for Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was released and we saw Johnny Depp as the enigmatic Willy Wonka, I believe the same four words bubbled to the milk chocolatey surface of every viewer’s mind: “creepy Michael Jackson vibe.”
I know some people who opted not to see Charlie and the Chocolate factory for just that reason; they weren’t particularly keen on watching the King of Candy prancing about with five children at his chocolate factory like the King of Pop with five children at his Neverland Ranch. Regardless of what did or did not go on at the latter, I would suggest that it should not be your reason for avoiding the former.
Whatever he looks and sounds like, there’s a big difference between Depp’s Wonka and Jackson’s…Jackson. Yes, Wonka has the pasty face and the high voice, but the resemblance ends there. See, Willy Wonka doesn’t appear to like kids all that much. While he has invited five of them into his factory, it’s pretty clear that he’d rather be doing just about anything but hanging around with the children. As a general rule, he is put off by their behavior (rightfully so, for the most part) and shrinks away should they even so much as grab his elbow.
It’s an interesting portrayal, but it runs into a huge roadblock: Willy Wonka doesn’t seem very human. Through a series of flashbacks, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory delves fairly deep into Wonka’s childhood in order to explain his motivations but ultimately fails to turn him into a sympathetic character. While I certainly felt for Wonka-the-child, Wonka-the-adult was so distant and aloof that there simply wasn’t any connection between the two. Thus, I found that I really didn’t care whether or not Willy Wonka resolved his childhood problems.
Is that a failing of Tim Burton or of Johnny Depp? Honestly, I think it’s a little bit of both. Depp failed to allow Willy Wonka’s humanity to show through when it was critical that he become a sympathetic character, but Burton’s story didn’t emphasize the healing/redeeming aspects of the aforementioned resolution of Wonka’s childhood problems. A little tweaking on both parts would have resulted in my heart happily simmering as the end credits rolled.
Willy Wonka aside, I’m afraid that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory doesn’t have a whole lot going for it, except for some rather amusing Oompa Loompa tunes and an excellent turn by David Kelly as Grandpa Joe. The main problem is that it simply doesn’t stand out from the 1971 Mel Stuart version starring Gene Wilder. The two Willy Wonkas are as different as night and day, but almost everything else (apart from a slightly different ending) has been done before.
On the untrademarked, unpatented KJToo Arbitrary 27-point Rating System, I give Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a 17.
Willy Wonka: 5
Despite bringing back the original title, Johnny Depp is clearly the big draw here. Unfortunately, his out-of-this world performance never makes it back to terra firma and I just didn’t care about him. Christopher Lee is woefully underused as Willy Wonka’s father.
Solid performances from Freddie Highmore (Charlie) and David Kelly (Grandpa Joe) are a high point in the non-Wonka cast. The other children and their respective guardians are all portrayed quite well, but Helena Bonham Carter and Noah Taylor as Charlie’s parents are little more than set dressing.
The Chocolate Factory: 6
Deep Roy is all of the Oompa Loompas, and that’s pretty impressive. Unfortunately, nothing else about Wonka’s “amazing” chocolate factory really wowed me.