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.”