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July 21, 2005

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (PG)
by Amy Diaz

Tim Burton presents a plate of candy-coated creepiness and chocolate-covered lunacy in the delightfully screwy Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Kids like monsters and scary things and have a rather selfish and vicious point of view on the world. All children are not smiling little beacons of goodness and purity. Some of them are horrid little people with horrid parents that don’t curtail their children’s more destructive instincts. Once upon a time, children’s stories — in fairy tales and children’s books — reflected that. And, to be fair, many still do. The cartoons on Nickelodeon are, in fact, full of horrible, bullying kids. But in movies, for whatever reason, most children are drawn with soft edges and hearts of gold. It’s nice when kids are allowed to be the very fallible, imperfect little people they truly are.

And that’s what lies at the heart of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and at the heart of many Roald Dahl books — the character flaws of other people and how they aren’t excusable just because they appear in children. Tim Burton, perhaps because he enjoys the ghoulish and perhaps because he understands what makes an attention- grabbing story, keeps this note of discipline and cautionary tale in the story which, includes plenty of people who are not beacons of goodness.

Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) is a good boy, as his grandfather observes, but not saccharinely so. He is simply a nice kid who cares about his family — including his mom (Helena Bonham Carter), his dad (Noah Taylor), his Grandpa Joe (David Kelly) and his three other elderly relatives— and tries not to let their extreme poverty get him down. He does, however, have one obsession — Willy Wonka and his mysterious candy factory. Charlie doesn’t get but one candy bar a year and, though he lives next to the factory, he knows nothing of it other than the stories Grandpa Joe, a former employee, tells about it. Of course, Charlie’s not unique in that — since all the workers were laid off and the factory gates closed, no one has heard or seen Wonka.

Therefore, when it is announced that Mr. Wonka (Johnny Depp) will offer a tour of the factory, it becomes the main topic of news world wide. Wonka will allow only five children to tour the factory and he will pick the five by putting golden tickets in five candy bars. Those lucky enough to find the tickets will be admitted with one parent for a one-day-only tour.

The children who find the tickets generally do so because of some shockingly over-indulged character flaw: Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz) is a chocolate-addicted fat kid, Veruca Salt (Julia Winter) is a spoiled girl whose father grants her every whim, Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb) is a bratty competition freak and Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry) is an angry video/TV-obsessed terror who figured out where the golden ticket was through his knowledge of technology without really caring about chocolate, candy or the tour. It’s only Charlie, who eventually gets his ticket through luck, truly wants the experience for itself.

When the kids arrive at the factory, the forbidding façade gives way to a slightly demented “It’s a Small World”-like puppet presentation (possibly, a redundant statement) and Willy Wonka appears to usher them inside.

Willy Wonka appears — I don’t think I can adequately explain what an understatement that sentence is. Dressed in velvet, sporting a shiny red page boy haircut and skin the approximate color of ashy-white goat cheese, Wonka looks half well-preserved corpse, half evil clown. He walks with a cane, more for its poking abilities and general panache than anything else. He has a perfect, I mean dentist-office-model-glistening-rows-of-pearl perfect, set of teeth that seem as  likely to bite the head off a puppy as to form a suspicious-looking smile. Depp’s mannerisms recall Megan Mullally of Will & Grace crossed with a head-trauma victim crossed with, well, again the phrase “evil clown” comes to mind. His voice is oddly flat, so devoid of accent it barely even seems American and seemingly without treble or bass, and a good two octaves higher than the average adult males. His mannerisms are part Grinch, part Cat in the Hat and part high school drama student trying not to act gay.

Depp’s Wonka is as much a visual feat as Burton’s chocolate factory and the interaction of the first in the second keeps you so mesmerized for the bulk of the movie that, as with so many Burton films, it’s not until days later that you start to consider whether the movie was any good or not.

I’m going to say that, yes, yes it is good. As the children wind through the factory, each meeting some fitting punishment for his sins and being ushered off the screen to the singing and dancing of Oompa-Loompas (all played by Deep Roy), the movie amuses as it amazes with the odd kicks of almost Lemony Snicket-like darkness thrown into all that sugar. The movie manages to both play it straight and smirk out of the corner of its freakily-perfect-teeth-filled mouth. Charlie is such a genuinely charming and decent boy that we are happy to make what might otherwise seem like an appalling journey with him.

Ultimately, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one big bizarre confection itself and best summed up by Charlie when he says “Candy doesn’t have to have a point. That’s what makes it candy.”