Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is sweet, a little nutty and way better than a year’s supply of chocolate. It’s not Johnny Depp’s finest work, nor is it Tim Burton’s bastardizing of a classic a la Planet of the Apes. It’s just a confection of sugary visuals with a nice nod and a wink to the previous movie.

The highlight performance for me, amazingly, isn’t Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, but Freddie Highmore as Charlie. Highmore brings a sense of innocence to the role and the connection between himself and Depp is evident. He is the center of the movie, much more than Wonka. Still, I dare say Peter Ostrum in 1971 might have done a better job than Highmore.

Depp said he would be channeling a reclusive Howard Hughes and a 70s glamerous rock star for Wonka. I can see Howard Hughes a bit, but Depp does not come close to, say, Elton John here. He is obviously doing Michael Jackson with a dash of Gene Wilder and it is at once pure genius and supremely creepy. Wonka is a sweet man with a messed up childhood. Slightly eccentric, the Wonka of 2005 isn’t quite as mad as Wilder’s portrayal but he has a heart that I find more appealing.

Deep Roy as all of the Oompa Loompas was an interesting twist and I greatly enjoyed the singing numbers after each child received their “just desserts” (sorry couldn’t help myself). The backstory of Wonka, a creation for the movie, was an interesting idea that I’m glad they pursued. It gave Wonka some motivation and anytime you can get Christopher Lee on screen is a plus.

I have to admit that I prefer the musical numbers from 1971 to the Willy Wonka song with the animatronic puppets bursting into flames of today. That scene alone screamed Tim Burton to me and I was slightly put off by it. Many in my movie-going row also found it strange.

Also, it’s incredibly difficult for me to believe that screenwriter John August had not seen the 1971 film when putting together this new movie. Perhaps it was Burton who was more influenced than August in putting it all together visually. It rings true to the book and the first movie without hitting you over the head with it.

Burton is nearly always at the top of his game when he invents his own movie ideas (Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas) and, frankly, I wish he would continue to create his own visions than recreate someone else’s imaginative world.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was better than I expected for not the reasons I expected. A nice twist at the end and you’ve got the makings of a new treat of a movie for generations to come.