Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) — A sugar high and a sugar crash in one

“Candy doesn’t have to have a point. That’s why it’s candy.”

Justin’s rating: Oompa loofas are not quite the same thing

Justin’s review: If you’ve never read Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, then it is nigh past time to rediscover a bit of childhood that you missed. They’re terrific works of a gleeful imagination that got turned into the semi-faithful 1970s film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The marvel of children’s books is that they have complete permission to be as weird, as crazy, as nonsensical, as creative as possible; the tragedy of growing up is that our reading turns into more and more structured works where imagination is reined in by that hobgoblin of literature, Making Sense.

In reading these books and watching the (remake? reimagining?) of Chocolate Factory, it’s downright ironic that Dahl stocks his tome full of the most unimaginative kids possible: Veruca Salt is the spoiled kid whose parents deny her nothing; Violet Beauregarde is the kid bred to a fanatical ultra-competitive state; Mike Teavee is the kid turned rotten by non-stop video games and TV; Augustus Gloop is the kid whose entire life is food and more food. As these four winners of a Golden Ticket tour through the legendary Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory — plus a poor, friendly chap named Charlie who finds the fifth Ticket — they bring in their “reality” and experience a bombardment of kooky silliness that jars them to their core. Even back when Dahl wrote these books, he must’ve realized just how much kids had stopped being, y’know, kids. How everyone’s in such a rush to grow up, to compete, to gain wealth, to indulge in non-stop gratification… that it seems few even take the time to enjoy even a little childish pleasure like, I don’t know, candy.

Both the Gene Wilder and the Johnny Depp versions of Willy Wonka are unsettling and creepy in different ways, but I far more enjoyed this rendition of Dahl’s book than the older one. Partially because the Oompa Loompa songs were downright rocking instead of nightmare-inducing but mostly because the setting of a magical chocolate factory tour is a perfect match for the unbalanced talents of Tim Burton.

Yes, unbalanced. Go back to your bat-caves, raving goth Burton fans who own every item of Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise. Burton isn’t the infallible Pope of MovieLand; as a director he’s shown both amazing strengths and repeated weaknesses. Burton has a knack for whipping up scenes and settings that evoke the best feelings of Halloween wherever he goes — even if it’s Christmas — indulging us in landscape after landscape of sumptuous ingenuity (a couple $2 words for your benefit!). He even gets the start of his tales off near-perfectly, many of them doing classic fairy tales proud. But what I’ve noticed, over and over again, is that Burton almost always stumbles toward the end of his films, unsure of how to really wrap things up.

Chocolate Factory is no exception, even with an army of vicious squirrels.

The fact that the story is almost a bare-bones tale is distracting when you get past the visuals and pay attention to it. The bulk of the movie is the group touring through weird room after weird room in the factory during which one of the bad kids makes a horrible error, Oompa Loompas sing a song, the kid is punished, and off to the next room they go! There’s really no building climax or character progression for Charlie and Wonka; they’re sort of just there, going along, more or less the same people at the end as they were at the beginning. It’s only the power of Burton’s visuals and the cheeky childishness of the scenes that manage to distract you from serious criticism.

The factory is cool. It’s amazing and serves no logic whatsoever — something which annoys many of the unimaginative kids and their parents on the tour — but it looks like a place where we’d give our left arm to be able to explore. Even so, this isn’t a safe amusement park; Dahl’s books and the movies aren’t shy in hinting at a more sinister undercurrent of danger that threatens to snatch up anyone who’s an idiot. No OSHA here, that’s for sure.

And even the main characters are superb… at the beginning. Willy Wonka is a highly odd man-child with screamingly funny lines, Charlie is the “awww”-inducing kid with the heart of gold (who, in a very touching moment, offers to sell his ticket so his poor family can survive longer), and Grampa Joe seems like a right-on sort of fellow. However, as Burton films are wont to do, the longer the movie trucks on, the more things unravel and the more the characters are left in the dust as the special effects team goes hog-wild. Charlie becomes a non-issue; he wins the “special prize” only by virtue that he keeps his hands to himself and kind of likes candy (yeah, that’s a spoiler, but you’re going to tell me you don’t know the plot at all?).

Wonka is a much worse misfire. I know Tim Burton has a habit for using Depp in most of his movies, the same as he uses Danny Elfman to score (and Elfman produces an incredible effort for this movie), but let’s admit that Depp wasn’t up for this challenge. His Willy Wonka isn’t the looney genius with an uncanny inner wisdom; he’s just looney. He obviously hates kids, has family issues of his own, and has gone slightly mad from being alone in a massive factory for years with only mostly-mute Oompa Loompas as company. After a while, when we realize that there’s really nothing more under the surface than strange observations and an apparent lack of concern when people are hurt around him, do we start to get unnerved by this guy. And that is a shame.

Still, a meandering ending and a weak main character aren’t enough to sink what has to be the most fantastical cinematic vision of the 2005 summer (I’d say year, but Sin City would murder me good if I did that). It’s quite pleasing on the eyes, hilarious on the ears, and a great way to inject some pure childishness in the young and old alike. We do need more of that.

Didja notice?

  • Charlie’s mother’s black teeth = VERY distracting
  • In the flashback where Wonka opens his factory, Johnny Depp holds out his giant scissors in a posed fashion, very much in the style of his title character in Edward Scissorhands.
  • Johnny Depp’s second chocolate-based movie (the first being Chocolat)
  • Some of the buttons in the Glass Elevator: Incompetent Fools, T-Bone Steak Jell-O, Secretarial Poodles, Cocoa Cats, Mechanical Clouds, Stars in their Pies, Nice Plums, Up And Out, Fragile Egos, Black Box of Frogs, Weird Lollipops, Mighty Jam Monitor, Creative Dog Flip, Elastic Forest, Leaky Canes, Dessert Island, People Poo, Pie Cream, Spewed Vegetables, Naffy Taffy, Lickety Split Peas, Honeycombs and Brushes, Old Sneezes and Smells Dept., Spewed Dumplings, Television Room, Whizzdoodles, Chocolate Lip Rookies, Blackberry Sausages, Yankee-Doodles, Orange Egg Flip, Root Beer Goggles, Pastry Room, Heart Shaped Lungs, and Projection Room.
  • In Charlie’s bedroom, there are wrappers of every Wonka bar he has ever eaten on the wall.

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