Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

3 stars


15th August 2005

You won't have to hunt long and hard to find a bigger Tim Burton fan than me. The man's had his moments, yes, but when I look at his goofy face, his intentionally wacky haircut and those unavoidable goth overtones, a switch inside me just flips to 'not bothered' (it's like, Tim, you already pulled that pasty-faced Bonham-Carter lass, you can stop pretending you hate your parents now. And don't slam your doo- SLAM). This is the dude than managed to ruin - scratch that - desecrate the sacred Planet of the Apes franchise, so you'll excuse me if I didn't jump for joy when I found out he was intent on 're-imagining' another classic.

Burton's take on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is slightly more faithful to the book than the 1971, Gene Wilder-fronted version, which author Roald Dahl reputedly hated. Were he still alive today, Dahl would no doubt have been impressed with the technical wizardry, choreography and set design of the new version, but one can only imagine how he'd feel about the fact that the dark edge of the story has been somewhat blunted. It's a lot of fun, wonderfully bright and colourful and it's sure to have kids enraptured, but it's more like fruit-flavoured Skittles compared to the original's sour variety (even though the chronology of my confectionary-based allegory is all out of whack - sigh).

The twisted pairing of Dahl and Burton seems like a match made in heaven, and the director wastes no time in stamping his unique visual style all over the movie - Charlie's home town is part Edward Scissorhands, part Nightmare Before Christmas, all crooked buildings and snow-blanched cobblestone roads. When the lucky winners of Wonka's golden tickets finally blag their way inside the famous factory, Burton doesn't hold back on the spectacle - the real-life chocolate waterfall is the centrepiece of a triumph of production design, the set covered in every colour of the rainbow, the props looking good enough to eat. If there's one thing you can count on Tim Burton for (apart from having a copy of the new Cure album) it's that he'll deliver in the visual stakes, and he do so with aplomb here.

Ah yes, that other Tim Burton mainstay, namely Johnny Depp. He was always going to have a hard time filling Wonka's ample top hat, but Johnny being Johnny, he just about manages to hold his own. Remember, this is the guy that can go from playing a coke dealer to a pirate to a cockney detective without breaking a sweat - a poorly coiffured chocolate merchant (oo-er) shouldn't be too much of a stretch. The Michael Jackson comparisons are inevitable - pale face, squeaky voice, pottering around by himself in a ludicrously sized playhouse - but Depp manages to make Wonka his own, steering clear of the no-nonsense approach and underlying creepiness that made Wilder's Wonka so effective. While we should be grateful that Depp has put his own spin on the chocolateer, his persona isn't nearly as interesting as we might have hoped - it's a general disappointment through the movie that the sinister air that made the original feel so subversive just doesn't materialise. Dahl, you suspect, would not be pleased with the jaw-achingly sweet ending.

There are a few new additions in Burton's take, although by themselves they don't really justify the remake. The inclusion of Willy Wonka's back story is a novel idea in itself, but isn't particularly riveting. Christopher Lee plays Willy's protective dentist father, explaining the candyman's love for the brown stuff, but it isn't revelatory or indeed important to the story as a whole - the original Wonka was swathed in mystery and was all the better for it. However, the origin of the Oompa Loompas is a welcome inclusion, explaining how the chocolate factory came to be populated with tiny creatures with a taste for song. Rather than hire actual dwarfs this time round, the Oompa Loompas are played by 4ft Deep Roy and are replicated using CGI - they've a little more to do this time round and provide much of the film's humour, although the new Danny Elfman musical numbers are nowhere near as catchy as those found in the original, and the lyrics are often hard to make out.

Like most Tim Burton films, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory isn't nearly as clever as it thinks it is. There's not really anything to be too proud of when you're working with such a rich source material and an incredibly vivid template to be working from - in fact, it would have been quite difficult to make a mess of it. Burton's vision neither sours or sweetens the Mel Stuart original (Wilder's Wonka is still arguably the more interesting character); rather it sits alongside it as a companion piece for a new attention deficient generation. Think of it as an updated version of a yarn that's sure to have obese children flapping their bingo wings in excitement for many years to come and it's not quite as bitter a mouthful to swallow for the adults.

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