The wonderfully weird world of Dahl is a perfect fit for Burton as he takes us from weird moment to weird moment, seldom ever forgetting that he's bringing us a Kid's movie that is somewhere between Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood meets The Cure and Neil Gaiman directs a stage play of H.R. Pufnstuf. It's hard to imagine that most kids won't find themselves just a tad bit disturbed as Burton becomes the children's version of Ingmar Bergman, or as star Johnny Depp becomes Wonderland's answer to Michael Jackson, but hey, it's all in good fun!
Freddie Highmore stars as Charlie Bucket in this now-familiar tale of the impossibly good and impassibly destitute young man who idolizes the great Chocolateer, Willy Wonka, his legend, his history, but mostly his Chocolate. When Wonka advertises a chance for five kids to visit his famously impregnable Factory, Charlie has dreams of winning the Golden Ticket, but scarcely has a chocolate bar's chance on summer pavement of winning one. Highmore alone makes this work, taking a pastiche of a character in a depressing caricature of a family, and turning him into a realistic little boy you can't help but root for. It's almost a shame to move on from the wanting kid, whom you're alternately sad, hopeful and proud of, but the gates to the factory are opening.
From there we see the weird and sweet self-contained universe of old Willy's man-child escapism, from the Chocolate forest (evoking fond memories of Dahl's original as well as 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to the Great Glass Elevator itself. And, of course, one by one the morally challenged youths and bad nuts (as rotten as their teeth) are brought to comeuppance through the ironic and apropos effects of the almost living factory.
Or maybe "almost" isn't quite right, as the presence of the all-knowing and all-improvising Oompa Loompas might suggest. Each Oompa Loompa, played by Deep Roy, with the voice and music of Danny Elfman, executes a hilarious and surreal punitive punctuation for each bad kid's true colors using the very lyrics Dahl set down years ago in his novel (without even a "doompity-doo" in ear shot).
It's Depp, as usual, who hits a homer here as Wonka, the brilliant, yet disturbed leading man that Burton is so known for. He disappears into this new Willy so well that it's repeatedly unnerving when this childlike recluse becomes more and more like a smiling, almost sadistic, Michael Jackson. Never falling into the overt psychosis of Gene Wilder's screaming boat ride speech, Depp is a more overtly creepy Wonka, watching his eliminations with the grinning innocence of a munchkin Jeff Probst.
But don't blame him... Blame the oppressive relationship he had with his daddio, Christopher Lee! Yep, the presence of Lee as Willy's extra-special-ironic Dentist Daddy not only makes for a creepy-funny explanation of why Wonka is... the way he is, but it also made me beg and beg and beg to hear him say "Willy, it is clear that this root canal can not be cured by our use of the Force... but by our skills... with the Light Sabre!"
Is it as good as 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory? Well, that's harder to say than most French Menu Items, but this is definitely pretty darned good. Sure the special effects are better, but this was 33 years ago, and if good effects made good movies, Michael Bay would have an Oscar! To be sure, the 1971 adaptation has its fans, and I'm vehemently one of them, as were many of you. Unfortunately, one important person who was not such a fan was Roald Dahl, who was so upset by the finished product he refused to allow the sequel to be made (and you thought that glass elevator cliffhanger was on purpose?). Though this version purports to be more accurate to Dahl's vision, the bottom line is that this is another great take on a great story! You've got them both now Kiddies, and you don't have to choose!
Four and One Half Stars out of Five for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. On one hand it can be creepier than Crystal Pepsi, but on the other, you might be so heart-warmed you won't even notice the calories in the Chocolate. The songs are great, the acting, dead on and the moral humor, even at its most twisted, is simply delicious. Burton is once again a visionary at the helm, and thankfully he's still as strange as Pink Floyd jogging the yellow brick road in gold-dyed Tretorns. Even purists to the older flick can appreciate this groovy, yet quite different experiment in Dahl Country! Now, if you'll excuse me, I seem to have some visitors. I've just spent an hour in front of the computer monitor on my company's time while drinking fifty ounces of red beer, and about thirty two-foot-tall men in burgundy vinyl jumpsuits have flooded my hotel room to sing me songs about my dark side. I think I'll need another twenty-five ounces for this one. So until I drink enough to float to the ceiling fan in a bubbly, burpy mess, I'll see you in the next chocolate covered reel.
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