July 13, 2005 Critic James Berardinelli says if there is any living director who can do justice to the warped nature of Roald Dahl's children's stories, it's Tim Burton.
Berardinelli has a point, and Burton's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" proves it. Burton uses his favorite actor, Johnny Depp, who gives a whole new twist to factory owner Willy Wonka. Gone is the famous Gene Wilder take on the irascible factory owner, which Wilder tried to make a genial fellow, after all.
Dahl hated the original version, and Berardinelli says "it's no wonder why," as "Wonka was transformed into a father figure."
Instead, Depp's portrayal of Wonka is "creepy," says Berardinelli.
"This is the kind of a man one wouldn't feel safe leaving a child alone with," Berardinelli says. For instance, Depp as Wonka — attired in a black top hat, black topcoat and giant-size glasses — tells the children touring the factory: "Everything in this room is edible. Even I'm edible, but that is called cannibalism, and its frowned upon in most societies."
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. For those few who many not know the original story, five children win a tour of the chocolate factory after finding golden tickets hidden in the wrappers of the millions of candy bars the factory produces.
The audience, of course, falls for Londoner Charlie Bucket, a poor soul who uses his last money to buy the winning bar. The other four children are fraught with defects: selfish, greedy, obsessive or spoiled. The movie, after all, has a moral and a message: selfishness and overindulgence in food or folly is bad.
Charlie's hapless companions are: Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), a pig of a boy who considers chocolate to be his primary food group; Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), the most spoiled girl in England. Her pantywaist father (Edward Fox), who denies her nothing; Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb), an overachiever who turns mundane activities into contests she must win; and Mike Teavee (Jordon Fry), a super-intelligent video game addict who thinks the world revolves around TV and electronics.
Helena Bonham Carter (Burton's current off-screen leading lady) and Noah Taylor play Charlie's parents. Veteran Irish character actor David Kelly is Grandpa Joe.
Berardinelli says that "Wonka" is at times reminscent of Burton and Depp's collaboration on "Edward Scissorhands," and that the ending hearkens back to Burton's father/son theme from "Big Fish."
He questions whether Depp's performance reminds one of Michael Jackson. "Without question," he says, "some of the mannerisms are so similar that it's impossible to believe it's a coincidence."
However, Depp and Burton say the portrayal is based on Howard Hughes and Edward Scissorhands. There is, in fact, homage to that movie in a scene where Wonka hefts a large pair of scissors to cut a ribbon.
Wonka's workers, the Oompa Loompas are still present, but the silly, though catchy, songs of the earlier movie aren't.
Steven Snyder, Zertinet movie critic, says Burton has the advantage of technology that was unavailable to director Mel Stuart when he filmed the first Wonka story 34 years ago. Snyder says, "Whereas Stuart's factory felt like a string of cardboard-sized children's paintings, Burton's paintings have
been stretched, amplified and digitized into a dreamscape of an entirely new order."
Berardinelli says Burton's films is darker than the original, which he thinks is all for the better and truer to the original story, and he says the "gaudy set decoration and special effects are light years ahead of what they were 34 years ago."
The movie is rated PG for quirky situations, action and mild language. It runs one hour and 46 minutes.
It starts at Market Square East Thursday.
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