Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

With a sinister smirk in his smile and a wicked glint in his eye, Willy Wonka betrays the spirit of the confections bearing his name. Those expecting the same milk chocolate rush of 1973’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in director Tim Burton’s remake Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will be in for sour balls.

Burton’s film is a dark chocolate treat, bitter around the edges but satisfying nonetheless.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is also a visual feast, a widescreen canvas where bright, pretty colors collide with dark, depressing imagery. It’s pure Burton, perfectly executed by production designer Alex McDowell and photographed by Philippe Rousselot, constant visual reminders of class distinction. The streets outside the Wonka factory, cowering in the shadows of the towering smokestacks, would depress Charles Dickens. Inside, the factory glistens like gumdrops on a sunshiny day, each room filled with a new adventure.

There’s plenty of adventure and mayhem in Burton’s faithful take on Roald Dahl’s best-selling 1964 novel, a darkly comic etiquette lesson delivered by a man-child subject to neurotic flights of whimsy. Gene Wilder played Wonka as a schizophrenic, sweet and helpful one moment, mean and sarcastic the next. Johnny Depp returns to the Burton fold as a more complex Wonka, an eccentric attempting to cover up a miserable childhood with layers and layers of chocolate.

Robbed of his own childhood, Wonka finds disdain in others, willing to dispense cruel slices of life to make a very sharp point. There’s more back story in John August’s screenplay, pieces of information which transform the 1973’s cheery musical about bratty kids into a cautionary tale about parental neglect and abuse. These kids didn’t climb out of the womb feeling entitled, it was handed to them by their parents. Wilder delighted in punishing the spoiled brats, Depp feels equally at home neutering their parents.

Depp is excellent as Wonka. Sporting a Demi Moore/Ghost haircut and enough pasty make-up to win a Crispin Glover look-alike contest, the actor casts the perfect reflection of a man desperately trying to hold on to his innocence. His candy fills more than tummies, it fills a hole in his soul, the only way he can receive the love of children without directly dealing with them.

That is until Wonka opens up his factory to five lucky winners of golden tickets and their guardians. Four spots are filled by spoiled brats (gum-smacking Violet Beauregarde, binge-eating Augustus Gloop, ever-demanding Veruca Salt, and video game addict Mike Teavee), while the fifth ticket ends up in the hands of poor but earnest Charlie Bucket (the extremely likeable Freddie Highmore), who lives with his parents (Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor) and both sets of grandparents, including Grandpa Joe (David Kelly), who once worked for Wonka, in a rickety lean-to.

The winners get a tour of the factory, which proves less a prize than an obstacle course where each of the brats getting their comeuppance. Anyone who has seen the original film or read the book knows what I’m talking about, but Burton extracts extra glee in torturing the bad kids, turning their lessons into near-death experiences. Wonka is assisted in his morality play by the Oompa Loompas (all played by the engaging Deep Roy), pint-sized parleyers of truth and wisdom.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory soars with flights of whimsy, delicious eye candy, and a trio of performances by Depp, Highmore, and Kelly which make Burton’s vision one-of-a-kind. It’s a yummy experience that won’t leave you feeling like an all-day sucker.

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Burton’s Chocolate Remake Passes Taste Test

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Deep Roy, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Christopher Lee. Directed by Tim Burton. Rated PG. 120 Minutes.

Larsen Rating: $9.00

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