I was very apprehensive.
Because I loved the original so much.
Trying to remake one of the best films ever.
An unenviable task.
But Tim Burton was bringing it all back home.
1964. Roald Dahl.
But let’s take a step further back.
Camp X. Ontario.
“Established” December 6, 1941.
Yes. You read that right.
The day before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
It was established by the “real” James Bond: a Canadian by the name of William Stephenson.
His codename? Intrepid.
He oversaw British intelligence, MI6, for the entire Western hemisphere during WWII.
Roald Dahl, the author of the children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was one of the men trained at Camp X (today known as Intrepid Park).
So it should go without saying that we are not dealing with just any children’s author.
And herein lies the secret of Tim Burton’s success.
I fully expected full-on ball-tripping excess in homage to Mel Stuart’s “wondrous boat ride” of 1971, but Burton managed to restrain himself.
Indeed, the psychedelia of this film (and weirdness in general) is evident throughout almost every part of the film…EXCEPT THERE.
And so I must hesitantly call 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a masterpiece.
Against all odds.
It’s only fitting that the lead child actor who plays Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) was born on Valentine’s Day.
Yes Virginia, perhaps some things are fated.
Highmore is fantastic in a role created by Peter Ostrum.
And though we miss Diana Sowle and her priceless rendition of “Cheer Up, Charlie”, Helena Bonham Carter is quite magnificent in her limited scenes as the cabbage-cutting Mrs. Bucket.
But Tim Burton updates our story considerably to make it more relatable to the Harry Potter generation (and the service-industry pipe dream known as the “third industrial revolution”…for the “adults” in the crowd).
Yes, we needs must only revisit Eliyahu Goldratt’s “business novel” The Goal to remember the shortsighted “local efficiencies” which factory robots can produce.
By the way: there’s a father Bucket. And he runs into a patch of robot trouble.
But Tim Burton does not stop there. Whereas the original film focused tentatively on child spies (remember the purloined Everlasting Gobstopper?), the film under review seems to situate itself amidst the full-scale industrial espionage (and, in particular, intellectual property theft) which the United States attributes to China.
But let us pay our respects here.
David Kelly was fantastic as Grandpa Joe. Truly a wonderful performance! And we are sad to have lost his talents in 2012.
Reading from back to front:
-our Augustus Gloop is somewhat forgettable (save for his Low–era Bowie hair tint)
-AnnaSophia Robb is appropriately snotty as the overachieving brat Violet Beauregarde [How did Tarantino not hire this girl for his next refried kung-fu film?!?]
-Julia Winter (who strangely has no Wikipedia page) is really special as the mouthy tart Veruca Salt
-and Jordan Fry plays Mike Teevee (though they might as well have gone with “Hacker” Mike Xbox or some such first-person shooter sobriquet).
And that leaves us with the big dog himself: Johnny Depp.
Stepping into some very big shoes.
Gene Wilder. Taken from us just months ago. A truly magical being.
And so Depp and Burton needed a strategy.
And it appears it was something like, “Ok, let’s make him weirder. Like, lots weirder. Remember those sunglasses Keith Richards wore on Between the Buttons? And the hair like Brian Jones. Prim. Proper. Rocker. Ok, ok…but we want the Salinger recluse thing with some Prince or Michael Jackson oddity. Purple velvet. Ok, yes…we’re getting somewhere.”
Most striking, however, is Depp’s accent. Very Ned Flanders…but possessed by the thoughts of Salvador Dalí.
But the Burton touch shows through. That macabre glee.
A little cannibalism joke here. “Which half of your child would you prefer?”
Though tempered by quick-tongued childlike wonder, Depp is still a rather darker Wonka than Wilder’s fatherly archetype.
Yes, Depp could fit fairly well into Kraftwerk (especially germane had Augustus from Düsseldorf won the grand prize).
Johnny and his purple latex gloves.
Not a touchy-feely Wonka.
Doesn’t even bother to learn the kids names. [there’s only five]
Totally off his rocker.
Makes Gene Wilder’s Wonka seem like Mister Rogers in comparison.
But this is mostly secondary to the success of this film.
Tim Burton evidently didn’t feel making a true family film was beneath him.
And so, perhaps with a bit of inspiration from Wes Anderson, he made an immensely touching picture here.
Charlie Bucket is the kid we need in the world.
The chosen one.
The needle in the haystack.
And it is Wonka’s quest to find such a unique child.
Charlie almost gives up the ticket (sells it) to help his desperately poor family, but one of his four bedridden grandparents must have read Hunter S. Thompson at some point. And so Charlie is convinced to “buy the ticket, take the ride” so to speak.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Enter Deep Roy (Mohinder Purba) as ALL (and I mean all) of the Oompa-Loompas.
It is in the short (!) song sequences where Burton’s debt to David Lynch emerges.
Kind of like Danny Elfman’s debt to Tom Waits.
Comes and goes.
Burton, being the mischievous connoisseur of all things dark, manages to make Veruca’s exit an homage to Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren (albeit with squirrels).
Sure, there’s some crap CGI in this film (not to be confused with the even more insidious Clinton Global Initiative), but it is generally restrained.
At a few points, it gets off the rails and threatens to damage an otherwise fine film.
But I tell you this…there are plot twists here which for someone who has merely seen the first film (like myself) truly baffle and surprise.
And they are touching.
So it is with no reservations that I call this a family film.
Sure, some of the jokes are a bit obtuse.
But the framing story (the Bucket family’s existence) is indescribably magical.
It is then, only fitting, that Christopher Lee be the one to welcome the prodigal oddball Depp.
Which is to say, this film has a sort of false ending…which is inexplicable…and genius.
It is at that moment where the film finds its soul.
Happily, Burton gives us a fairy tale ending in which the young mind can work with the eccentric master…and the eccentric master can once again know what home is like.