There is something you should know right off the bat: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is not a remake of Mel Stuart’s 1971 kiddie classic Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, which starred Gene Wilder. Tim Burton’s new film is a new take on the 1964 Roald Dahl novel, which spawned both productions. But does sticking closer to the literary source make it better than the Stuart/Wilder version, or is it more akin to Burton’s 2001 edition of Planet Of The Apes, harmless but completely unnecessary?
For those not familiar with the story, a quick recap: Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) is an impoverished youth who becomes one of five lucky winners to visit the mysterious factory of legendary candy manufacturer Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp). Along with his Grandpa, Joe (David Kelly), Charlie joins four other kids on a magical, mystery, high-caloric tour, where a special prize awaits one lucky child (no, it’s not a common sense explanation to the ending of Burton’s Planet Of The Apes).
With his last feature, 2003’s heartwarming fantasy drama Big Fish, Burton took a mature step forward as a filmmaker. Combining his knack for visuals and the offbeat with involving charactersand a solid screenplay, courtesy of John August (he also wrote the scriptfor this film), Big Fish, much like Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands before it, was more about people than it was props, sets and visuals.
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, alas, doesn’t continue Burton’s forward progression. If anything, it’s a stepbackward. Philippe Roussleot’s cinematography, Alex McDowell’s production design and the solid performances by Highmore, Kelly, Bonham-Carter and Taylor, as Charlie’s parents, are all positive attributes, but they are notenough to remove the bitter after tastes other ingredients leave behind.
Instead of mining Dahl’s book to create a fresh, darkly humorous movie laced with a keen observation on greed, Burton andAugust decide to simply sit back and merely go through the motions. The fourother kids on the tour are one-note Stepford brats without the slightest bit of personality to them. Charlie and his family, following a nice introduction in the film’s beginning, are soon pushed into the background. The tour and the factory itself are about as much fun to visit as the dentist office, and a ridiculous subplot involving Wonka and his estranged father (Christopher Lee) is an extraneous one that should have been written out.
Johnny Depp is a terrific actor and usually, collaboration with Burton guarantees a winning ticket. Sadly, this is not the case this time. A combination of a smarmy game show host and a certain, recently acquitted celebrity, Depp’s Wonka comes off as a creepy misanthropic recluse that should not be allowed within 50 meters of any man, woman or child. We never connect with Wonka, instead we watch him bounce off the walls and act kooky while he makes our skin crawl. Gene Wilder’s Wonka may have been a bit off his nut as well, but at least there was something in him you could empathise with.
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory promised to be a tasty confection of dark comedy that turned out to be a bland, bitter piece of cinematic junk food. Sorry kids, but this Candy man… can’t.