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Warner Bros. Pictures

Official Site

Director: Tim Burton

Producers: Brad Grey, Richard D. Zanuck

Written by: John August; from the book by Roald Dahl

Cast: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Deep Roy, Christopher Lee


Part I: On the Validity of the Remake (or Lack Thereof)

When hyperintelligent extraterrestrial conquistadors inherit the scorched and pocked sphere that we labeled as “Earth,” following the inevitable extinction of man by our own ruinous devices, perhaps they will be able to, when surveying the recovered history of our once-empyrean species, pinpoint the moment when and the reason why the Hollywood remake became not only an acceptable practice, but an unavoidable one. Because of my dual, successful modeling and investment banking careers I don’t have the time needed to embark upon a definitive investigation of the origin of the contemporary remake-plague (which is known to inflict those who are exposed to it with nausea, inflammation and soreness of the genitals, and chronic diarrhea), but an easily reached conclusion concerning the non-researched subject is that most cinematic remakes are painful and redundant affairs. One need not look too far past (let alone suffer through) Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, Jonathan Demme’s The Truth About Charlie, or Kevin Bray’s Walking Tall to sympathize with the above statement.

Directors with arguably more vision (or perhaps just the favor of an unholy Sumerian god), such as Martin Scorsese (Cape Fear) and Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line), adapted existing properties with viewpoints liberal enough to warrant the existence of more recent versions of past films. Such efforts should more accurately bear the moniker of “re-interpretations” or “re-imaginations,” and err on the side of significance because they contribute more to an elder title than updated pop-culture references. Such victories in the war of the remake are rare, and only modestly support the institution of reinvention.

And yet, the remakes persist, and the devotion of time and effort to original filmed properties fades faster than friendships between teenage girls.

Part II: Tim Burton and Willy Wonka and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

Enter Tim Burton, director of the abysmal remake of Planet Of The Apes, with a remake of the beloved family film Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. His version is entitled Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, which accurately reflects the title of the book on which both film versions are based. Although Burton’s grotesque-yet-quaint visual style, fetishistic reverence of outcasts, and reliance upon blunt (but not necessarily off-putting) sentimentality make him a natural choice to helm a rejuvenated version of Dahl’s sweetly malevolent children’s tale, one must question the necessity of and the demand for such a production.

The original film, after all, is just 34 years old—young in cinematic years—and exists as an atypical example of a film suitable for all ages which transcends all age boundaries. Willy Wonka was and remains a property which exudes equal amounts wryness and heart. Although its faults are obvious and sometimes jarring—the noisome and lumbering musical number “Cheer Up, Charlie,” the stomach-churning homeliness of Charlie, the stomach-churning homeliness of Charlie’s mother—its assets are numerous and relevant. The film is imminently viewable and imminently adorable, still.

Why, then, has Burton attempted to forcedly re-introduce a still-pertinent story into the public consciousness? Perhaps because of money. Perhaps because he feels that today’s youth will fail to connect with the fluffed-hair and turtle-necked aesthetic of the original. Perhaps he hopes to complement the sugary themes of the story with an added layer of sticky, heartfelt emotional nougat.

Part III: The Plot

Anyone unfamiliar with the basic plot of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is either an artificial being created in a laboratory environment by a crack team of clandestine government geneticists who forgot to inject childhood memories into the brain-mass of their synthetic being or is un-American and probably a terrorist. Either way, I hate you.

To those whom I hate: This film concerns an impoverished child named Charlie Bucket (Highmore) who lives with his equally-impoverished parents (Bonham Carter and Taylor—yes, Charlie has a father this time around) and grandparents (Kelly, whose Grandpa Joe is the only octogenarian of importance). Charlie’s greatest wish, other than somehow helping his family overcome their financial burdens, is to visit the factory of Willy Wonka, the world’s most famous chocolatier (Depp). In a move conducive to the telling of a story, Willy Wonka, who has not admitted anyone into his factory in 15-or-so years, suddenly instigates a contest whose winners will be granted a tour of the reclusive confectioner’s headquarters. Five children from around the globe, including Charlie, who represents England (and is the sole child still in possession of innocence and purity), secure winning golden tickets and enter Wonka’s fortress on a Tuesday morning in February. Johnny Depp ensues.

Part IV: The Performance(s)

While Bonham Carter, Taylor, Kelly, and young Highmore all contribute solid and affecting performances within the film’s first half-hour as the family Bucket, once the gates to Wonka’s factory creak open Johnny Depp’s prepubescently fey characterization of the isolated chocolate genius is thrust directly into the audience’s faces more prominently than a massive, throbbing three-dimensional erection. Truly, while Johnny Depp inhabits the screen, or even the periphery of the screen, all other characters scatter and dissipate like so much dust in an apocalyptic wind. Frustratingly, Depp’s Wonka is such a knowingly entertaining creation that the trajectories of the film’s other characters are derailed altogether and the adventure of Charlie Bucket is relegated to subplot status amongst Wonka’s unrelenting assault of girlishly intonated non sequiturs.

Fortunately, Depp’s Wonka is tremendous fun to watch, and his gleefully insane channeling of a eunuch ventriloquist’s puppet almost compensates for the fact that his onscreen presence drains all story-related forward momentum from the film. This Wonka is a far different creature than Gene Wilder’s iconic portrayal. Depp’s version is a perpetually wild-eyed and forever frenzied, completely cartoonish, and devoid of any human qualities. Wilder’s Wonka was subtler and scarier, with his frizzed hair, his hushed apocryphal warnings, and canted grin. Classic Wonka sussed sociopath while modern Wonka screams schizophrenic. Both are boundlessly entertaining and although I prefer Wilder’s more varied and frightening performance, I confer to Depp a bounty of much-deserved praise.

Part V: The Aesthetic

Expected the sharp and crooked Burtonian angles indigenous to his films imposed upon Dahl’s world, but also expect a weirdly contoured and streamlined visual atmosphere to pervade once both children and audience are admitted into Wonka’s utilitarian funhouse of misfortune. Although the edible landscape of the waterfall room, indelible from the 1971 film, is Burton-ized with moodily organic and snaking candy vegetation, the rest of the factory is almost sci-fi streamlined and weirdly sparse, possibly as an effort to separate the look from the original film, and a departure for the director. While interesting as a conceptual choice, the factory’s interior is left feeling vacuous and barren; if intended as a visual metaphor for Wonka’s internal machinations it’s genius. Otherwise, the look of the film comes across as being detractingly rushed.

Part VI: The Alterations/Additions/Alleviations

Their second collaboration (in the wake of Big Fish), Burton and screenwriter John August’s plug that film’s primary structural flourish—tangential, anecdotal stories represented visually—to a mostly successful effect. This is often done to expand the character of Willy, and works the best when the legendary Wonka mythos is relayed to Charlie verbally by Grandpa Joe early in the film. What falls flat is the flashback-induced exploration of Wonka’s backstory, which unnecessarily details his relationship with his estranged father (Lee). Much of the mystique associated with Willy Wonka is due to his unknown origins. Perhaps he has existed since time itself began, and made chocolate in an undisclosed glade in the Garden of Eden, or perhaps he’s an escaped lunatic who constructed his palatial workplace and zany persona as a method of disguise? The point is, we never knew, and now we do. Wonka’s backstory intersects with Charlie’s immovable feelings of familial commitment toward the film’s end, in a story addition that carries the film past the point of a satisfying ending, and it again mirrors the theme of latent patriarchal love, also found in Big Fish.

Also different and not necessarily better are the musical exploits of the Oompa Loompas, who are now Polynesian pygmies uniformly played by Deep Roy with the aid of digital manipulation. Each number, following the downfall of one of the selfish children, is represented in a divergent musical style, varying from rap to hair metal to krautrock. While Danny Elfman eerily lends his voice to the Oompas, their moralistic musings seem less horrific and strangely sterilized in this incarnation. That might be attributed to the garbled nature of their synthesized chants, or it might be that their croons lack whatever indescribable orange-hued magic those original, awkward Oompas lent the factory.

The most questionable change in Burton’s version, however, is the omission of the scene in the original in which Charlie and Grandpa Joe imbibe the experimental Fizzy-Lifting Drink and nearly meet their dicey demise at the blades of a razor-sharp ventilation fan. In the 1971 film that scene provided Charlie with a humanizing strain of selfishness, beneficially lifting him above his one-note kindheartedness and propelling him toward the palpably tense confrontation between Wonka and himself in Wonka’s visually stunning halved office—the film’s best scene. Charlie now lacks that additional bit of characterization, which is especially unfortunate since Wonka all but usurps the film from him, and he’s left to flounder in a state of automated awe throughout most of the film.

Part VII: The End of This Nonsensical Numbering System

Burton’s updated telling of Roald Dahl’s doesn’t diverge so drastically from the source material to qualify it is a re-imagining, nor does it differ so much from its cinematic predecessor to merit yawps of blighted dismay or newly realized graciousness, depending on one’s viewpoint of the 1971 film. Entertaining primarily because of Depp’s performance, it is Depp’s performance which also acts as the atrophying albatross which anchors the film in one mode for entirely too long. No, it’s not an abortion of your childhood memories, nor is it the second coming of Wonkamania. It’s really just another remake in a long string of remakes that will seemingly never cease, produced by a collection of very talented filmmakers and performers. Though this confectionary morsel goes down sweet, mind the latent sour stomach that may follow.

—Nathan Baran

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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