Saturday, November 11, 2006


Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryJohnny Depp Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Johnny Depp
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Being a huge fan of the 1971 film staring Gene Wilder, I had to wait a while and let the hype from this film settle down a bit before seeing it. I'd heard some people hated it because it didn't "feel" like the WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY they grew up with, while others applauded Tim Burton for making another unforgettable movie experience.

Most of you reading this should (by now) know the story of Wonka: famous chocolatier closes his factory for many years because of competing chocolate makers stealing all his secrets. Then, suddenly, he decides to reopen the factory, but only to five children who find the five golden tickets hidden inside Wonka bars. The great puzzler that the world asks is "Why?" Why open up only to five kids and not the world? This is Willy Wonka's secret agenda and the climax to both the 1971 film and this 2005 "re-imagining".

Hollywood is remaking everything nowadays. I see this as a two-fold issue: #1 - they seem to have run out of original story ideas (or at the very least have few left) so they're remaking what made money in the past; #2 - they're trying (and successfully I might add) to tap into the X-Generations' childhood love of certain films and bring them back to the big screen, thus pulling us (I'm a Gen-Xer, too) back into the movie theater to spend our hard-earned cash. I'm not knocking either possible philosophy. I mean, filmmaking is a business and they need to make money one way or the other.

But what about this film? Well, it's engaging and interesting, if somewhat darker than the light-hearted musical we saw over three decades ago (most viewers shouldn't be surprised by this since it's done by the "master of dark themes" himself, Mr. Burton). But I can also see modern marketers inserting various items into the story in order to lighten it up a bit (the TV room is most notable for this with its homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey).

Comparing them - as other reviews have pointed out - is like comparing apples to apples. And with respect to the screenplays, they are mostly right. But this film definitely took less liberties with Roald Dahl's classic book than did the '71 version. And this movie is also not a "musical" (only a select few numbers are done which mirror the book, and they're all done by the oompa loompas).

I also enjoyed a more balanced approach to both Charlie's and Wonka's lives. We get to see more of Wonka and just about the same amount of Charlie in this new adaption.

I also think that the casting was perfect. Charlie Bucket (played by
Freddie Highmore) was an excellent choice for the main role. I loved him in FINDING NEVERLAND, and I still love him after watching this. Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST) is creepy and gruff, but strangely enjoyable to watch. My only complaint here would be that I felt more of the "magic" coming from Gene Wilder's portrayal in '71. With Mr. Depp I didn't feel much magic at all, and only a bit of sympathy and bizarre revulsion toward what Willy Wonka had become. But still, Depp played him very well ...just differently.

My heart still rests with the original, but this one is certainly entertaining. Although the magic isn't present, there are still many other aspect that'll engage young and old viewers alike, and will surely cause very heated conversations about which adaption is the best.

Click here for the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie trailer!


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