Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 15, 2005 Posted on: Friday, July 15, 2005

Sorry Charlie! 'Wonka' remake lacks magic

By Tom Long
The Detroit News

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (PG) Two and One-Half Stars (Fair-to-Good)
Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton ("Batman," "Mars Attacks") deliver a Willy Wonka every bit as odd as you might imagine. Visually splendid, fully eccentric and oddly cold at times, it warms at the end but still lacks special magic. Warner Bros. 115 minutes.

Willy Wonka is a weirdo. As played by Johnny Depp in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" he seems like Michael Jackson channeling Carol Channing, a little boy of a man in a fop's outfit who teeters between innocence and mischief.

It's a performance that likely will make the movie for some and make the movie miserable for others, but it's undeniably miles from Gene Wilder's original portrayal of Wonka in 1971's "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory." Which is fitting because director Tim Burton's interpretation of the Roald Dahl children's book is also far removed from its predecessor.

Fine. The movies are different. Is the new one any good?

Uh, sure, you know, depending on how weird you want your Wonka. Burton has included a far more satisfying ending, he's front-loaded the film with all sorts of glimpses of the candy baron that weren't in the first film, and he's included bunches of background information. He also has the convenience of modern special effects to work with as well as his own unique sense of visual design.

How many directors would imagine, and then train, dozens of squirrels to shell nuts?

But this is an undeniably darker film as well. Where Gene Wilder seemed to have a heart of whimsy in the first movie, Johnny Depp's heart is controlled by his head in this film, and that head is definitely screwed up. Burton announces the film's different intent right from the beginning, with Danny Elfman's charging score sounding like the clarion for a new "Batman" movie instead of a family flick. When Wonka is first introduced, it's in a scene that would fit nicely into a horror movie. You can't say Burton doesn't warn you right from the beginning.

The essential story remains the same. Young Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore, Depp's co-star in "Finding Neverland") lives an impoverished life with his parents and four grandparents in a little bent shoe of a house. His idol is the reclusive Wonka, a genius candymaker who shut down his factory after spies began stealing his secrets.

But now Wonka is opening the factory for a day to five lucky children who find a gold-printed invitation in a Wonka bar. Each child can bring a parent along on the tour, and one lucky child will receive a surprise gift at the end of the visit.

The first four children who come up with gold invitations are obnoxious snots. There's Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), a rotund pig who's always stuffing his mouth with chocolate; the ultra-competitive Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb); the spoiled Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), whose father buys thousands of candy bars in search of an invitation; and violence-prone know-it-all Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry). And then there's Charlie, a kid so poor he only gets one candy bar a year, on his birthday. Of course he lucks into an invitation.

One weakness of the original film was the obviously plotted one-two-three elimination of the children, and it's a weakness here as well. In fact, the center of the movie drags somewhat, with Depp's chiding oddness becoming the main focus of interest.

But that oddness, as well as Burton's elaborate visual creations, are a bit lacking in heart. There's so much facade at the center of this movie, from characters to constructs that it suffers from emotional drift about halfway through.

The drift isn't helped by the Oompa Loompa musical numbers.

The Oompas are a tribe of identical miniature people (all played by Deep Roy) who work for Wonka, and while they can be visually arresting, the songs they sing are a bit vague.

Luckily, the heart that Burton loses somewhere in the middle of the movie is regained in the end, and the lost boy inside Willy Wonka emerges. If there's one particularly odd thing about the two Wonka films it's that "Charlie" is chiefly about Willy, while "Willy" is about Charlie.

Again, weird. But this was Johnny Depp doing Willy Wonka for Tim Burton. What did we expect? Something very much like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." But perhaps with a bit more magic.

Rated PG for quirky situations, action and mild language.