Remake films always have it tough – the audiences don’t want a different take on a familiar story; the cast and crew are either following someone else’s footsteps or are trying too hard to steer away from it. And then there’s the story itself – some movies get stale and outdated when they’re remade (what were they thinking); while others – are timeless tales, and will flourish in capable hands. This remake is such a story – it worked in early 70s with Gene Wilder, and it works just as well with Johnny Depp, no doubt benefiting from the wild imaginations of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.
Burton’s films have a quality about them – at their worst you can just hit mute, sit back and soak up all the visuals – the sets, the costumes, the long shots, and the digital trickery. When I say “their worst” I mean “Planet of the Apes” and “Mars Attacks”. Great, entertaining films that could have used a better script and possibly better cast. Everything else Tim touches – is pretty much priceless. Not always understood, but definitely memorable. So here’s my bias, and I bet I’m not alone in this admiration. If you thought for a second that original Batman was a marvel, despite the darkness; that Edward Scissorhands was infinitely tragic despite “Avon lady” sugary tone; that “Big Fish” is a film for all fathers and sons to cherish – you will agree that Burton is a guy with a solid vision. And the fact that almost every one of his movies has a fantasy/magic theme only makes this choice of movie better. Burton is great at telling us fairy tales, especially dark ones, so why not explore the corners of Roald Dahl’s book?
The plot of the movie is a rehash of the book, and anyone who read it (or remembers the 1971 movie version) would know every scene by heart. The film does not go off into any uncharted territory, and faithfully goes from set to set, adding a new flavour to every encounter. Perhaps this may feel like “by the numbers” remake, but the visuals take off on their own, and you immediately forget about the original. From the opening sequence we know it’s a world where anything is possible. The gravity-defying dilapidated house; the family of six (plus one) living on one room; the chocolate factory are all presented so well that we plunge into the adventure and accept everything else without doubt. When later in the movie the kids begin to transform (in rather unpleasant ways) we believe it, and laugh at their misfortune, even though it’s somewhat painful to look at.
The tone is much darker from the original, there are fewer songs, but boy what musical numbers they make. Deep Roy should get an award for the best straight-laced man (and sometimes, a woman) performance. He’s digitally multiplied into dozens of Oompa Loompas, so the choreography is perfect. The kids are still the same brats they were 30 years ago, but this time they’re a bit more menacing, and their “rewards” is just as frightening. Gone is the sweet abandon of Gene Wilder, and instead we have a guy who cannot hide his resentment of kids and families – even though he tries. Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka was a bit more colourful and better balanced.
Johhny Depp really steals the movie (once you get used to out-of-this world visuals, and incredible factory contraptions). He creates a completely new persona (some people compare him to Michael Jackson – with obvious sexual overtones). He is a businessman, but his clientele is capricious, immature and self-centered. It makes sense that he acts just like the kids, but doesn’t see it, and doesn’t think it’s all playfulness. Wilder’s gayness is replaces with Depp’s coldness, and it works for the movie. You can be menacing and still come off as harmlessly eccentric.
Charlie Buckett (Freddie Highmore) who has played opposite Depp in “Finding Neverland” is adorable as a kid who’s growing up way too soon, skipping the best years of his life, and now has a chance to have a fun adventure just like his peers. He lights up every scene, and is obviously a sharp contrast from the other bratty kids who win the lottery. Charlie deserves to get a glimpse into Wonka factory, but it doesn’t mean he won’t get scared along the way.
The movie works in a few ways – sometimes in parallel universes. The moral lessons are clear and powerful – the kids in the theater were upset when “movie” kids were punished, but understood why. However, the visuals, and the sets were so outstanding that I kept tuning out and just admiring the backgrounds instead of paying attention to the dialogue or song lyrics. This amount of work needs to be admired separately from the rest of the movie.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the same book, told differently. Darker, more cynical and incredibly more visual – it’s almost an overkill, but it works well. I think it’s possible to like both movies just the same, even though you walk away with different moods from them. Catch it when it comes to DVD – it should be a worthy set.