If the firstÂ Willy Wonka & the Chocolate FactoryÂ served as a delightful psychedelic freak-out with Gene Wilderâ€™s gobstopping candymaker as scolding guide, Tim Burtonâ€™s more lavishÂ Charlie and the Chocolate Factory full movieâ€”driven by Johnny Deppâ€™s eccentric, parent-hating Wonkaâ€”is akin to a disappointingly tame acid trip.
With characters whose countenances have been strangely airbrushed with not-very-human glossiness, Burtonâ€™s take on Roald Dahlâ€™s classic kidsâ€™ tale is both more polished and sinister than Mel Stuartâ€™s 1971 version, offering a dash of the surreal, a dollop of the bizarre, and a healthy dose of the grotesque as it recounts the magical tour of Wonkaâ€™s chocolate factory taken by four spoilt brats and poor, good-hearted Charlie (Freddie Highmore) and his Grandpa Joe (David Kelly). But saccharine timidity is whatâ€™s really served up by this cinematic summer bonbon, as the director seems unwilling to fully commit to the menacing nastiness that was always the most intriguing aspect of Dahlâ€™s beloved tale. Burtonâ€™s Wonka is a kook, thereâ€™s no doubt about that, but with a traumatic childhood backstory that explains the root causes of the chocolatierâ€™s eccentricities, and with an unexpectedly docile tone thatâ€™s more strange than petrifying, his foray to the famous factory becomes something of a gooey mess.
Not that this newestÂ Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie isnâ€™t still, in many aspacts, superior to the first movie. Thankfully gone are the awful song-and-dance numbers performed by Charlieâ€™s mom, Grandpa Joe, and Wonka, all of which have been replaced by wonderful musical numbers (scored with grace by Danny Elfman) choreographed by the latex suit-wearing Oompa Loompas (Deep Roy) at the end of each tykeâ€™s departure.
While none of these compositions is likely to make one forget the Oompa Loompasâ€™ signature ditty, their lyricsâ€™ suggestion that Wonka has designed the unfortunate demise of gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb), spoiled Brit Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), fat Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), and video game-junkie Mike Teavee (Jordon Fry) brings about an undercurrent of mischievous mayhem that one wishes was further exploited.
Thanks to production design (by Alex McDowell) that regularly creates terror from assembly line imagery, Charlieâ€™s slanty-angled shanty home and Wonkaâ€™s cocoa waterfall roomâ€”where everything, including giganticÂ Alice in Wonderland mushrooms, is edibleâ€”exhibit a Dali-esque oddness thatâ€™s at the same time luring and off-putting.
These and other funhouse-mirror wonders are playfully kid-unfriendly, from the weirdly disturbing animatronic puppet show (replete with an impromptu fiery finale) that Wonka prepares for his amazed guests, to the brief snippets of Veruca, Violet, and Mikeâ€™s home lives that neatly elucidate the selfish beastliness stemmed from overly permissive parenting.
Playing the role of Willy Wonka, Johnny Depp comes across like the bastard son of The Joker and an extraterrestrial mannequin, his pasty face, perfectly styled brown hair, and top hat giving him a clown-gone-scary look that complements his oddly cheerless smile, bug eyes, and gawky, stilted acts.
One of Burtonâ€™s typical outsider protagonists, Wonka is bestowed with a plethora of snippy lines (the best of which involve accusing Mike Teavee of mumbling), and when heâ€™s allowed to run with his characterâ€™s man-child weirdnessâ€”such as during an impromptu jig during an Oompa Loompa concertâ€”the actor locates the socially retarded recluse cowering underneath Wonkaâ€™s carnival barker exterior.
Big FishÂ scribe John Augustâ€™s script, however, saddles Willy Wonka with flashbacks to his poor youth as the orthodontia equipment-adorned son of a dentist (the brilliantly casted Christopher Lee), and such exposition not only saps the candy mogul of his creepy mysteriousness, but eventually leads to a new ending that alters the thematic focus from that of kidsâ€™ (and adultsâ€™) monstrousness to the virtue of familial togetherness.
Coupled with Burtonâ€™s wishy-washy decision to show the bad kids emerging from the factory at filmâ€™s conclusion (rather than having them remain off-screen as in the first Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie, which subtly implied that theyâ€™d perished), the film exudes an air of apprehension, as if afraid to push the boundaries of PG creepiness lest it excessively upset its under-15 audience. Whereas it should be scary, thisÂ Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movieÂ instead turns out to be just sickly sweet.
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