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Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie: For a man who’s earned a reputation for being one of the most original moviemakers on earth, Tim Burton has an awfully huge fondness for remakes. And what a mixed bag they are: His hit Batman spawned a huge movie franchise, while his Planet of the Apes stands as one of the most widely trashed films in recent memory.
Thus, Burton takes a third stab at the remake game with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, an upgrade/remake (whatever what you want to call it) of the beloved 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book. But the stakes here are far greater than they were with Apes. That was a campy sci-fi movie that no one really cared about. In fact, the original Apes had long since killed itself under the weight of four increasingly awful sequels. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory frequently tops “Favorite Movie Ever” lists, and news of the remake has met with nothing but scorn from fans (including 1971 star Gene Wilder, who later retracted his scathing remarks).
I present you Tim Burton, try to screw with the thing.
Anyone who’s watched the original film 40 or 50 times will know the story well: A mysterious candy magnate invites five children who find Golden Tickets in his candy bars to an exclusive tour of his magical factory. The core of our story finds young Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), a dirt poor boy who lives down the street from the factory in a shack that, in the literal world, would be condemned and turned into an office building under eminent domain rules. He’s the only decent child in the bunch.
The rest are spoiled brats, which include the fat glutton Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), super-spoiled Brit kid Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), TV addict Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry), and the driven, gum-chewing Village of the Damned-look-alike Violet Beauregarde (AnnaSophia Robb). Each comes in tow with a parent who does little or nothing to fix their horrible behavior, which is on full display during the factory tour.
Certainly aware of the fame of the original, Burton doesn’t really even try to stay faithful to the first movie. And sadly, wherever he branches off, his step falters. Fans will instantly see the biggest change on screen in the lead Johnny Depp, who departs radically from Wilder’s vaguely ruthless, sarcastic, quip-happy Wonka and turns him into a kind of man-boy with a squeaky voice. (I’m not sure what Depp was going for in this performance, but it ends up being one of his shallowest and least nuanced ever.) The Oompa Loompas are reimagined, too, with stuntman Deep Roy playing all of the parts (sans orange face paint).
Even more striking are the entirely redone musical numbers: There are basically four of them, all performed by the Oompa-Loompas, one carried out when each kid encounter his sugary near-demise. Those hoping for a remake of Veruca Salt’s “I Want the World” or those catchy “Oompa loompa oompa dee doo…” tunes will definitely be disappointed. They’ve been replaced with grandiose ballads and rock operas, each of which is harder and harder to comprehend than the last.
Burton also stretches the story out to two devastating hours, wasting long passages on Wonka’s backstory and youth, taking us on asides (to Loompaland, even), and convincing us what a Good Boy that Charlie really is. And the freaky makeup work on the children, which makes them look like smoothed-and-polished plastic dolls, is enough to give you nightmares.
The sets are a lot similar to the first, but everything about Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film is more polished, more produced, and simply less genuine. It’s hard to adapt a work which is originally a diatribe against gluttony, excess, poor parenting, and media overexposure when your final product is guilty of all of said things. Burton, forgive the pun, is like a child in a candy store, tossing off too many boring jokes and dragging the film on for far too long. His Charlie is full of spirit but empty calories. The two-disc DVD features a number of featurettes (heavy on the movie’s impressive special effects) together with some set-top games inspired by the flick. Anyone seen Deliverance?