Director Tim Burton breathes new life to Roald Dahl’s 1964 sweet tale and turns it into a new celluloid confectionery.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a gothic yet colorful fantasy filled with the eccentricity only Burton gets to achieve in the Hollywood mainstream.
Burton is undeniably a patron of German Expressionism with the film’s pale make-up, weird props, sets and costumes, exaggerated moves, and out-of-this world characterizations. He creates a dream world inspired by some dark and cartoony elements. The mise-en-scéne of Charlie Bucket’s house is reminiscent of the classic German Expressionist film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.”
The chocolate factory is a fantasy candyland filled with loads of chocolific sounds and visuals. From Dahl’s lunatic world comes the mysterious and legendary children’s adventureland showcasing various candies, chocolates, and flavorings — including lollipops, nuts, jellies, and the great chocolate falls, to name a few. The heart of the factory, the chocolate room, mixes the sweets with technological advancements. The colorful vision and twitches are very much apparent throughout the picture. The imaginative parade of seemingly cloned little people called the Oompa-Loompas portrayed by the single miniaturized actor Deep Roy adds a contour of playful fun to the workshop run by Willy and his midget workers.
The tale’s sharp humor and sentimental moods hit the right places. As a welcome to his five guests and their parents, the tricky and quirky Wonka comes up with a doll show ending with the dolls breaking down and burning up, parallel to his experience as a child after his trauma with his estranged, sinister-looking father (Christopher Lee) who threw all his candies and chocolates to the fire. With a dentist father who fitted him with weird and creepy braces and banned him from eating sweets, he leaves home to fulfill his passion. He shuts down his social circle to be the most famous chocolate maker of the world. He loses his social skills, ultimately becoming very awkward in the company of other people. From a tormented child to a socially uneasy adult, his experiences help the audience understand his grimaces and scowls.
Danny Elfman’s musical score (most of the lyrics taken directly from Dahl’s book) contributes much to the fun, weirdness, and obscurity of the director’s taste. The score is full of witty flights of fancy where the emotional tones are dark yet ironically colorful, and at some point, getting some needed creepy undertones.
This film proves that the director-actor tandem of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp is still as remarkable as with their past films as “Ed Wood,” “Edward Scissorhands,” and “Sleepy Hollow.” Here, they continue rendering bizarre elements on screen in such an orchestrated fashion.
Depp as the new Willy Wonka — after Gene Wilder’s portrayal for the 1971 Mel Stuart film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” — delivers such an engaging performance with his uniquely charming demeanor on portraying a troubled persona. After getting rid of his workers and closing his factory to the public because of spies stealing his hard-earned chocolate and candy recipes, Wonka finally reopens the huge iron gates of his snow fortress-looking factory to five lucky children who found the five golden tickets hidden in five Wonka chocolate bars.
The character Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) features a classic fairy tale profile. He is a kind-hearted poor boy brought up with good manners and simple family virtues. He lives an underprivileged life and yearns for something that seems to be out of reach — getting that golden ticket to enter Wonka’s great factory. It is not a far-fetched dream after all as he gets the final golden ticket to join the tour with four other not-so-good kids: the piggy-boy Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz); the spoiled brat Veruca Salt (Julia Winter); the competitive gum-chewing girl Violet Beauregarde (Anna Sophia Robb); and the violent TV addict Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry).
Lee’s character as a physically unchanged person even after a few decades have passed seems to be a lapse in judgment by the production. Some minor inconsistencies with the chocolatier’s use of cue cards lose touch in the narrative, especially by midway to the end. Such could have been utilized better as something more valuable to the tale.
With its load of a psychedelic, twisted, dark yet colorful, scrumptiously sweet-saccharine confectionery, and with just minimal issues to contend with, this cinematic piece becomes a prime moving story about family and the whimsical fulfillment of dreams.