CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY review
One-third of the way through CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, my now five year old nephew whispered to his grandfather, “Granpa – I’ve seen this before, but I can’t remember it right.”
Tim Burton’s CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is simply scrumdiddliumptious. In many ways this film reminds me of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, there’s a feeling of cinematic whimsy at play here. Something magical, beautiful and incredibly warm. To me, it is Burton's first live action film that from start to finish never hits a false note for me.
My nephew’s comment is a truism… You have seen this before… there’s moments that completely reflect the memories of the Gene Wilder version… which I dearly dearly love… I still dearly love. This one though, this is something new for me. Watching the film was like watching one of my childhood faves, a film that I’ve attended sing-a-longs at the Alamo Drafthouse before… only, now I have new songs to learn – except – this time they’re the songs out of the book, lyrics that I never knew the rhythm or melody for. Finally – Veruca is a bad nut as intended. Wonka’s factory is truly a dimensional portal into pure imagination – not just a song about pure imagination. What’s the point? Candy doesn’t need a point, it’s candy, that’s all it needs to be. However, this film is quite a bit more than merely a sweet taste in your mouth leaving calories at your waist.
The film is a tour of Tim Burton fetishry – from swirls and stripes to German Expressionism to cinematography that evokes vibrant 1960’s Playboy airbrushed photography only with Dali-esque surrealistic Rockwellian imagery… which all echoes the memory of Wonka. Imagine if the Krell… instead of concentrating on furthering science to serve realistic thought… if Wonka developed technology that allowed a focused imagination to create the most fascinating technology and creations… but that only served to create candy, because to Willy… there’s nothing more fantastic than candy. Candy eggs that hatch moving chocolate birds. Eternal bubblegum. It… ya know – Willy is still a child – and this is the most richly textured child’s imagination unleashed.
This is Burton’s reimagining of the Disney Empire as if its sole purpose was candy and if Disneyland had been the personal playground to the single most eccentric creative and scientific genius recluse. Depp’s WONKA is definitely one of the screen’s great eccentrics.
Gene Wilder’s Wonka is an iconic figure of my youth. He was so warm and witty… he had this ability to just suddenly cut to the bone and move past it like he’d just given you a hug. In a way though, I always felt this didn’t feel entirely like the Wonka I’d constructed in my mind after reading Dahl’s classic.
Enter Johnny Depp – his Wonka isn’t BETTER, nor do I feel Wilder’s Wonka is BETTER. Rather this is an entirely different take on the character. The great departure in this adaptation from Dahl’s book is in giving Wonka a bit of history. I don’t want to go into that history because frankly… you should just let it unfold for you. Now – if you do happen to know the back story created for this version of the Wonka tale then I’ve got some comfort for you. When I went in, I too knew what had been done with this new back-story – and I too was highly skeptical. The only bright spot I could see was in casting Christopher Lee as his father. What I like about this creation is the way it is told… as a series of flashbacks that Wonka has… How it shows the earliest first steps he took on the path of leaving normalcy in the general direction of mythic legend. Does this wipe clean the slate of mystery that is Wonka? Dear god no.
It’s like saying that because you know Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed in an alley, that there’s no mystery to Batman. Hell, thousands of books have been written exploring Batman’s history, back-story, his old age – every quadrant of the character and yet… there’s still mystery to be had.
For Wonka – the chief unbelievable mystery of the man is… How does he do what he do? Yes, I know that’s a mangled sentence, but dammit… one look at his world and him in this film and you’ll believe that he somehow did it. Where’d he learn the science, the chemistry, the mystic art of candy creation? I get that he probably toured around the world, but… where did the money come from? Who were his teachers? This isn’t Edison with teams of scientists on the payroll… The Oompa Loompas – I don’t think they invented these techniques, the super-science necessary to do the things we see here. It is… as if Wonka tapped into the capacity of the unused brain and unleashed it like a Death Star beam to blow the minds of the world with the sheer taste, spectacle and imagination of his candies.
I’ve always dreamt that somebody like this would one day just show up on Earth. Someone that could just make things that seemed like miracles. I’ve always loved the magic of invention, the power of creation. Everytime I see a baby – it amazes me that just a few short months before – it was a perhaps seven bites of steak digested by two different people that created the pieces that made this creature with astonishing curiosity… but other than that – I don’t see a great many miracles in our world. And certainly very few creators that border upon the realm of sorcery. That’s why I like movies and fiction. There you see magic on a quasi-regular basis. And Wonka is just such a character.
He’s a man that looks a great many years younger than he would seem, yet has a bizarre aged and preserved manner to his youth that is altogether unsettling. Willy is a recluse. Someone that simply disappeared from the reality we know. Imagine if when Howard Hughes disappeared into that Vegas hotel – if one day… 30 years later – he invited 5 folks in to see what he had done. I got a lot of shit for praising Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan’s script AMUSEMENTS years ago – and at the time, I honestly did not know that name was Moriarty’s. For when I read that script – I had never met Moriarty. Strange, but true. BUT – AMUSEMENTS had a similar premise – one about a fellow that just disappeared from reality – and then invited a little group in to see the wonders of his kingdom. It’d be like… Imagine. We all know Walt Disney is on Ice somewhere, but imagine if… in secret he had been brought back to life. And if Disney Corporation bought an island somewhere – and nobody heard a thing. Then, next week… ABC announced that they would have a special announcement from Walt Disney – who had returned – and if that amazing man invited 5 children and their parents to a special new creation that nobody anywhere knew anything about. Imagine.
That’s the delight that’s created here. And Depp’s Willy… he isn’t good with people. He’s been living, presumably, with Oompa Loompas for the past 30 years – and he doesn’t really know how to talk to people. His Wonka seems stuck culturally in some bizarre time warp of 50’s-60’s universe. The dialogue he spits out sounds like something you might hear come pouring out of one of Roger Corman’s old Beatnik Masterpieces – he simply does not belong among us. In a way – he reminds me of Crispin Glover here. So many feel Crispin is entirely too bizarre – but rather, he simply loves things off the beaten path. It doesn’t make him weird, it makes him who he is. If you know silent cinema, avant garde art and beat culture – and sideshow Americana – then you’ll actually think Crispin is… one of us. But if all of that is a beet and lima bean stew for you, then move along. Wonka isn’t weird – he simply is normal for a mad genius that has lived 30 years with exclusive contact with Oompa Loompas.
And speaking of OOMPA LOOMPAS… At this moment in history – I have an incredible amount of joy for the actor DEEP ROY – we’ve seen him in dozens of our favorite movies… usually unrecognizable – but here… here he finally takes a true starring role. A thousand times the personality of Mini-me – his Oompa Loompa and their constant presence is simply a joy. He is the face of every Oompa Loompa – there’s thousands of him in this movie and he works to give a personality and a bizarre humanity to them all. The voice in song is Danny Elfman – but Deep’s eyebrows being raised, his smile, his grimace, his being is so preciously maniacal and devious and sweetly sinister that I’m giddy every time he’s onscreen.
Now I mentioned Danny Elfman. When I went out to the Salt Lick with Danny’s brother Richard, he told me that he had heard some of the work that “Little Brother Danny” had done and he said that it was some of the most inspired work that Danny had ever done. Coming home – I instantly went to iTUNES to get the songs and soundtrack… only to find it not on there. I’ve been screaming in madness desperate to hear this music constantly on my home system – cuz I love love love this work. It is less Soundtrack god Danny Elfman – and more Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo Danny Elfman… Fusing electrified guitar and bass into his playful odd rhythms and tunes. Imagine EDWARD SCISSORHANDS’ score but played by Eric Clapton. It’s got that kind of vibrancy and ferocity… yet remains sweet and eclectic. What a joy?!?!?! I hope to god he’s doing CORPSE BRIDE too this year.
The kids. Tim really scored with this group. Great kids with faces filled with personality. Shaving off Gloop’s eyebrows gives that kid some bizarre overgrown ceramic Goebel Hummel figurine-like look. It is as if the kid was on his way to becoming Tor Johnson – but was trapped in a bizarre pit stop that began with him being a Hummel. Too bizarre for words, but I love it. Violet being into martial arts is just frightening. And her mother – Jesus on a pogo stick creepy. Veruca – is especially odd. The original Veruca had this look that made me think she grew up to be the slutty bitchy Susan George with bleached lockes and headed to make daddy pay for not getting her that Goose. But that was probably just me. I loved Mike TeaVee in the original – and I loved his mom. Here, he’s less of a presence, but reminds me of my nephew at his most hyper insistence in knowing more than anyone the truth of the universe.
I really like Charlie’s home life. I love the expressionistic squalor we find him in, and I love that his first impulse is to sell the ticket to help his family through their particularly tough times. That Charlie is the sort of kid that’d give up his fondest dream for the family he loves. Well, to me… that has always been the essence of Charlie.
I’m quite anxious to see this movie again. Burton has delivered a delectable feast for the senses here. Burton hasn’t been this good in a very long time… if ever. What a summer!