A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 461 – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – June 4th, 2011

Unlike last night’s movie, I am very certain of when I first saw this one. I was visiting a friend and a friend of hers worked at a movie theater. So one evening we headed out and saw the last show of the night. There were maybe four of us in the theater and I was terribly tired but I had fun watching it. I was also quite certain that it was a movie made for a niche audience that I just happened to fit into but which would likely be on the small side. It was the cannibalism line that really hammered that home. This is a Tim Burton movie, after all, complete with mainstays Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

This is an incredibly stylized movie from start to finish. Everything about it is polished and intentional, from the angle the Bucket house is tipping to the almost plastic look everyone’s been given. There’s certainly a retro vibe going through much of the movie, but it’s a consciously retro vibe. This movie knows it’s a modern remake and revels in it. There’s a very dreamlike quality here, with the unreal makeup and the song and dance numbers, but that seems to have been Burton’s intention and I can see the purpose of it so I won’t knock it. I would assume that the reason behind it is to place the movie firmly out of our reality and into another world entirely. A make-believe place where it would be possible for a chocolatier to make bitty chocolate birds that flap their wings by putting chocolate eggs on people’s tongues. This isn’t meant to be our world. It never was. It’s a fantasy land. It’s Wonka’s reality.

I think there’s something about the match-up between Willy Wonka and Tim Burton. I can see how Burton would be drawn to the story, both because of the story itself and because of its second main character. A strange and outlandish man who makes things many people love but is regarded as a bit of a weirdo? Yeah, I’m not shocked the Burton took on this particular project. I’m not shocked at Johnny Depp’s involvement either. Wonka’s a great part for him and while it had to be difficult to walk into a role that Gene Wilder played so very well, Depp certainly made the part his own. His mannerisms, his clear aversion to physical touch, his lack of understanding of appropriate conversation. Really, I liked it. I know some people don’t, but I did. Yes, it’s over the top, but so is the whole movie.

Once again we begin with Charlie Bucket, whose impoverished family lives in squalor and subsists on cabbage water. All four grandparents spend all day every day sharing one big bed in the middle of the room and Charlie’s hopeful that some day things will change. And of course they do. This movie doesn’t spend as much time building up Wonka’s factory and the mania over the golden tickets as its predecessor did, but it does make it clear that people are worked up about it. Just not quite as much. We meet each of the other four lucky winners and Charlie does indeed find some money to buy himself some chocolate, but there just isn’t the build-up here. Because this movie isn’t focused on the buildup. The world has been set with the visuals, so it’s not as important to set it with little scenes showing how valuable Wonka bars have become. I’m a little torn on this. I really like how big a deal it is in the first movie, but that doesn’t mean the way this movie does it is bad. It’s just different.

The focus in this movie is definitely the interior of the factory and the character of Willy Wonka. And for the former I have no complaints. The interior of the factory is fantastic, full of bizarre rooms and contraptions and candies. It’s beautifully done and I think this movie benefits from modern special effects and filming tricks that simply weren’t possible in decades past. It makes Wonka’s factory seem less goofy and more unreal and impossible. The Oompa Loompas add to that, largely because they’re all played by the awesome Deep Roy, whom we’ve seen in movies before and have grown to adore. He was recorded many many times for each number, turning in hundreds of performances which were then pieced together to form hundreds of identical Oompa Loompas. Brilliantly done. The dance numbers with all the Oompa Loompas are fun and I have to admit, I like that this movie kept the music to the interior of the factory and the Oompa Loompas. It makes the musical portions that much stranger and yet also less out of place. They exist within the movie’s reality not because people randomly break into song as a general rule, but because Oompa Loompas apparently enjoy creating clever and pithy songs about the misfortunes of others. It’s like Schadenfreude: The Musical!

Having poked around a bit, I think I can safely say that when it comes to the actual events that occur to the children inside the factory, this movie is a bit more faithful than last night’s. Not that I think that’s a measure of quality one way or another (if you’ve been reading my reviews for a bit you’ll know my thoughts on book-to-movie adaptations), but I think it’s interesting. I like both versions, to be honest, but what I like a bit more here is that we get to see the kids after their misadventures in the factory. Alive and relatively well, but certainly affected by their experiences. Which I enjoy. After all, just disappearing never to be seen again is all well and good, but actually having consequences for one’s actions is even better.

Honestly, I’m finding it hard to really review the movie because I do enjoy it in spite of what I know are valid criticisms of it. Too polished, too idiosyncratic, too Tim Burton, too Johnny Depp, too dark. I can see why people would level those complaints at it and I can’t argue with them aside from saying that it’s a matter of taste. I happen to enjoy the aesthetic of the movie and I enjoy the acting. I love Freddie Highmore as Charlie and I think the rest of the children in the cast do very nicely in their roles (though I’ve always disliked the caricature that is Augustus Gloop and feel he never gets time to be a fully developed character, being the first to go once they enter the factory – it’s not his actor’s fault that he gets so little time). The parents are all fun and I love David Kelly as Grandpa Joe (who looks a hell of a lot more like my Grandpa Joe than Albertson did last night). Really, my biggest complaint is the tool they used for dramatic tension.

I really don’t enjoy the whole anti-family subplot for Wonka. Not at all. I love Wonka’s line about how he was having a flashback and oh yes, they’re happening much more frequently today! But the actual content of said flashbacks? Eh. I could have done without it. This was an attempt to give the character of Wonka some backstory and character development. He has this whole childhood trauma thing going, resulting from having a dentist for a father and having to wear horrible headgear and not getting to have candy. And I love the always fantastic Christopher Lee as his father, but I think the entire plot is unnecessary. Depp’s version of Wonka is a walking collection of personality quirks and I think he works better if that’s just how he is. It keeps him a magical figure in a magical story. To have him grow up in a rowhouse and resent being told what to do? That takes away from the mystique of him and I think it lessens the fun of the movie. That aside, however, I like the ending and I like the music and I like the acting and I like the aesthetic and I just plain enjoy the movie. It doesn’t have to be perfect for me to enjoy it and enjoy it I do.

June 4, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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