Movie Review by Toby White
Starring: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter
Director: Tim Burton
I’m going to dismiss a synopsis for this one. Forgive me but EVERYBODY should have read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And if you haven’t then, firstly, you’ve had a misspent childhood and, secondly, read this review no further until you have familiarised yourself with Dahl’s classic.
Assuming anyone now reading this is familiar with the book, the onset of this new dramatisation raises a key issue. It is an unfortunate truth that, with remakes and adaptations, one can’t escape a certain anticipation of bench-marking when going into them. This one’s a remake (or retelling) and an adaptation so one’s preconceptions are doubled. The book aside, as an adult, having grown up with the Gene Wilder film, you’d imagine phrases such as “no comparison” and “not as good as the original” would come to mind. But how would this compare? Would it be littered with token modern references? Probably. Would this be bigger and more impressive? Probably not. Because we expected differently back then. We were a different audience. “Our” film was big and impressive to us. As technology has advanced so the expectations of the audience has advanced and, to an extent, become more sophisticated. You’ve only got to look at the two STAR WARS trilogies to prove that point. (See what I did there? Call them two trilogies rather than parts of a six episode serial?) Perhaps the only way to approach objectively is to go in open-minded…
So, to the film. It’s full of Burton’s touches. A premise-setting title sequence (to Danny Elfman’s eerily captivating score the chocolate bars are made, golden tickets are inserted, and boxes distributed to all ends of the globe); the visuals are a phantasmagoric kaleidoscope of colour (among other things, Burton has an entire arsenal of greys alone in his palette); the production design is typically warped and there’s almost a theatre to the whole proceedings: the set-pieces, the Oompa-Loompa songs, the characterisation (albeit why Depp based his performance on Michael Jackson is anyone’s guess), it’s as though Dahl would have had Burton in mind for the film when he penned the book.
In the main, and because of said advanced technologies, I would say Burton’s version comes closer to realising the vision of the book. Those of us remembering the Gene Wilder film were clearly poor, unsophisticated young scamps who could have only hoped in our wildest dreams for a visual extravaganza such as this (the chocolate river actually looks like chocolate rather than the watered-down ditch-water in the ’70s version). But what troubles me is that the essence of Dahl’s nefarious mind is tempered for a blind insistence (by the producers probably) that there be a moral message. Excuse the plot spoiler but where on earth did the unloving parents backstory come from? And the subsequent saccharine-drenched ending about family love purveying over everything? This assumption that the filmmakers need be the moral guardian of our already wet-nursed society just makes me cringe. And it leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth at the end of what is really rather an entertaining film.