Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a deliciously twisted tale told in such a magical, mischievous way it’s far more flavorful at every bite than the 1971 musical version starring Gene Wilder.
PG for quirky situations, action, mild language
Candyphiles should already be familiar with the meteoric rise of Willy Wonka, the candy magnate who managed to grow his business from one store to the world’s largest chocolate factory in a five-year span.
Wonka was the master, a conjurer of gum that didn’t lose its flavor, ice cream that didn’t melt, and numerous other confectionary delights. Like every successful businessman, his trade secrets became the subjects of corporate espionage and Wonka found himself up against stiff competition built on his own recipes.
Disappointed in his staff’s lack of loyalty, Wonka shut down the factory forever... well, a few years, which might as well be forever when you have a hankerin’ for a Scrumpdiddlyumptious bar and none are to be had.
One magical, happy day the reclusive Wonka stoked up the smokestacks once again and his factory began restocking the world with Wonka’s special brand of sweets. Who it was making those candies, though, was a mystery because nobody ever saw anybody enter or leave the factory. Then, on another magical, happy day, Wonka announced the release of five golden tickets, each wrapped in a randomly distributed Wonka Bar. The bearer of each ticket would win admission into the factory for a tour lead by none other than the candy man himself. And so began the greatest global chocolate frenzy ever known to humankind.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a musical adaptation featuring a screenplay by Roald Dahl based on his children’s book, is generally regarded as a classic children’s movie. But at least one person close to the project was sorely disappointed: Dahl himself.
Now, chocolaty wrongs have been made right with Burton’s version of the story; this one emphasizes at every turn the absurdist elements of Dahl’s source material. While Wilder played it fairly straight and glossed over the morbidity of the children’s lesson-filled fates, Johnny Depp (Ed Wood) seizes on Wonka’s creepiness and fleshes out a wickedly delightful man-boy son-of-a-dentist who simply can’t stand being around children and, much worse, their pa-pa-pa-parents.
Taking full advantage of modern special effects technology and a big budget, Burton’s visionary version is colorful, expansive, and more – albeit not utterly and completely – faithful to Dahl’s fanciful story. This time, even Wonka’s back story, a Wonka Begins kind of vision quest to Loompa-Land, the jungle home of the diminutive Oompa Loompas, is brought to the screen with typical Burton aplomb.
Excising all the songs from the ‘71 flick and replacing them with Oompa Loompa tunes ripped from the pages of Dahl’s book (set to music by Danny Elfman, formerly of Oingo Boingo and an almost constant Burton collaborator), Burton has been given the opportunity to once again make the kind of movie he was born to make. This is on par with his finest fractured fairy tales, particularly Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish.
Making the movie all the more enjoyable are the nicely drawn caricature performances Burton gets from his golden-ticket bearing children. Like Steven Spielberg, Burton excels at extracting worthy acting from his juvenile stars. He also spares no effort in hamming up those caricatures, giving the movie an extra over-the-top, cartoon-like feel missing from the Wilder version.
As with the ‘71 edition, entering through the mighty gates of the Wonka factory are a fat German boy, a rich brat, a champion gum chewer, a TV-addicted punk (this time hailing from Denver, Colorado), and, of course, Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore, Finding Neverland), the poor boy with a heart of gold.
At its soul, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a tale about the four deadly sins of childhood: gluttony, pride, greed, and TV watching. The importance of a loving family is also hammered home, but even with a PG rating, this one’s almost too good for the kiddies and the wee littlest ones might be a bit scared by the not-ready-for-Nickelodeon goo factor.
Regardless, it’s all done in such a visually-stunning fashion, Burton’s movie takes the term “eye candy” to an ever-higher level.