Sunday, July 17, 2005


Yep, went to see "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" last night. Was quite curious to see what Tim Burton would do with Roald Dahl's 40-year-old morality tale. Am pleased to say the new version sticks more to the book than the 1971 edition.

Now, the version starring Gene Wilder was a cult classic, and I enjoy it immensely. But even when I was a child, I thought they made Charlie's story too sappy. The kid they've got in Burton's version is awesome, doesn't play for sympathy. The book originally was more about Charlie and less about the other kids, and the same is true here. We see him with both parents as well as the bedridden grandparents, in a crooked little house on the edge of town. The grandparents see the other kids that won on tv, and don't hold back their disdain. When Charlie unwraps the fateful fifth ticket, you're pleased because he's a nice kid, not because he's a hard luck case.

Augustus Gloop's character is no different than in the 1971 movie, except that he doesn't figure out he's won a golden ticket until he has taken a bite out of it. Veruca Salt is still a snob prancing about in a fur coat, but she is more strident and less pouty in this version. Violet Beauregarde's character got an update; she's an overachiever with a lookalike stage mom, although the bubble gum is still prominently featured. Mike Teavee got moved to Denver and is addicted to video games like Doom instead of shoot-em-up Westerns. Oddly enough, the kid who plays Mike looks and sounds very much the same as the kid in the 1971 classic.

The factory doesn't disappoint; Burton's signature is all over it. Cold and austere on the outside, it hides a funhouse. The first hint that the viewer may be in for a wild ride is the clockwork-type production of wax figures praising Willy Wonka. It's reminiscent of Disney's "Small World" but has the added bonus of catching fire. Wonka, played with delicious weirdness by Johnny Depp, appears suddenly next to the ticket winners and their guests.

Depp's Wonka is an eccentric social outcast with a nervous laugh who acknowledges nothing outside his factory and his love of chocolate. He launches the golden ticket contest only because he suddenly becomes aware of his own mortality. His fear and loathing of adults is actually a key theme shared by Dahl in his book, so I enjoyed seeing Depp play this to the hilt. All the kids except Charlie mistrust and dislike Wonka fairly early on because they can't even fathom him. Charlie, though, while somewhat puzzled, is still up for the adventure and is the only one who tries to really communicate with this strange man in a top hat, loud suit and purple latex gloves. Grandpa Joe gets kudos for being the only adult who enjoys the tour.

The chocolate room is yummy, a Burton-esque edible garden with the requisite chocolate waterfall and river. The CG Oompa Loompas were a bit of a surprise, one real man duplicated dozens of times over and much smaller than the ones portrayed in the '71 version. They still sang cautionary songs, but these were very much in the style of Broadway musicals. I thought they were hilarious with their allusions to Esther Williams, the Beatles, heavy metal and other stylings.

The best part of the film was when Veruca Salt gets what's coming to her. Not being content with her menagerie of pets at home, she covets one of the squirrels shelling walnuts for Wonka. Without giving too much away, I'll just say that the squirrels give Veruca and her daddy appropriate send-offs.

My next favorite part was the Wonkavision segment. In a bizarre tribute to "2001", a monolith-sized Wonka bar is transmitted into a television set, where it comes out regular-sized. Then Mike Teavee transmits himself in a similar fashion into a hilarious Oompa Loompa production number in which he finds himself fighting Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots and the like.

The ending of Burton's film is very different than the 1971 version. We spy each of the other kids leaving the factory so Charlie can see for himself that they are changed but are probably wiser (in the book he was concerned about their welfare). What makes Charlie different from the other kids is his proper upbringing and love of his family. He has much to teach Willy Wonka, and Wonka eventually responds.

I'm never going to look at an army of squirrels the same way again....

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