Review: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

by James Seidler

What’s the point?

That should be the first question to come into anyone’s mind when a remake is announced, particularly a remake of a film as popular as Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Is there a new twist on the ending? A different focus from the director? An updated relevance in the fact of current events? What is that that makes the new film worth all of the fuss and bother of going to the theater when we already know how it ends?

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s case, the answer is not much. This isn’t meant to be a condemnation of the film, or at least not as strong a condemnation as it seems. There are plenty of things to enjoy in the new movie. The product on the screen is rich and colorful, as Burton’s vistas tend to be. The child actors are good in their roles; Augustus Gloop wears his chocolate well, and Veruca Salt has the range to pitch a damned good tantrum. There are some good lines tossed in as well, and a fair amount of fun with Charlie’s other grandpa, the curmudgeonly one who tries to spare Charlie’s feelings by telling him he doesn’t have a chance of pulling down a Golden Ticket.

But before too long, we get into the chocolate factory, and the kids are abandoned to their various fates, and the whole thing begins to have the inevitable feel of a screenwriter checking scenes off a list. Into the chocolate pipe—check. Turned into a blueberry—check. Down the garbage chute—double check.

Further detracting from the feel is some of the movie’s uncomfortable weirdness. This begins and ends with Johnny Depp, whose pale frame, estrangement from reality, and hostility towards the very concept of parents seems to indicate, as Roger Ebert remarked, that he’s channeling Michael Jackson. As a result, this Wonka sets you on edge in a way that Gene Wilder never did.

This sense of unease extends into other parts of the movie, including some pelvic-thrusting dances by vinyl-clad Oompa Loompas and a truly disturbing scene where Veruca Salt appears to be spread-eagled and molested by a horde of squirrels. The strange sexual undercurrent running through the movie in parts seems to emphasize that Wonkaland isn’t a good place for children to go unattended. Maybe the stipulation that one parent got to attend with Golden Ticket winners was insisted on by Wonka’s attorneys.

In the end, the movie is ok, but ok isn’t what I like to go to the theaters for, particularly when I’ve seen it once before. Burton does try to explore some new ground by delving into Wonka’s past, and thus, his motivations, but the end result is overdone and adds little. Ultimately, this movie fails to surpass its predecessor, and seems instead to be languishing in the shadow of the original.

 

© 2005 James Seidler, All Rights Reserved.