Like a bowl of peanut butter-pretzel, chocolate ice-cream with a marshmallow swirl, this “Charlie” is a delicious confection that is gluttony for the senses and has novel twists placed in a familiar favorite. True to form, director Tim Burton has scooped a rich treat that is a feast for the eye but might be too much for some sensitive viewers.
Young Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore, who co-starred with Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland) is as poor as a church mouse and gentle as a lamb, a stark contrast to the other children in the movie who are beasts of very different natures. He lives with his parents (Noah Taylor and Helena Bonham Carter, stretching credibility with her upper-crust accent) and four bed-ridden grandparents eating cabbage soup in a crooked little house, where he can watch the snow fall through a hole in the roof. He loves his annual birthday chocolate bar and hearing Grandpa Joe (David Kelly, the scene-stealing co-star of Waking Ned Devine) tell stories about working for reclusive chocolate maker, Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp), in by-gone days.
When a special lottery is announced and Willy Wonka proclaims that five lucky children will be allowed into his factory, Charlie longs to find one of the five golden tickets. What results is pure fairy tale and closer to Roald Dahl’s original book, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” then to the 1971 movie version, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, that starred Gene Wilder. The factory is everything a child -– and most adults — would wonder to see, with fabulous confections, curious people, and imaginative rooms behind every door. While Charlie and Grandpa Joe see delights of all kinds, they do not fall prey to their own weaknesses the way the four other children do with such memorable results. Johnny Depp plays Willy with a quirky, almost prissy tone, a lonely child in an adult’s body, who reveals in flash-back his own uneasy youth and his estrangement from his dentist father.
With Danny Elfman’s music, Roald Dahl’s text, and Tim Burton’s eye for scenery, this visual and musical feast will appeal to viewers who enjoy odd and, at times, biting humor. The movie’s stylish tone, relevant message, fabulous sets and imaginative story make it worth a bite.
Parents should know that, as in the original book, this movie has an atmosphere that might unnerve sensitive audiences, indeed a five-year-old child at this screening left crying after the candy boat ride down the chocolate rapids. There are some brief disturbing images, including burning, melting dolls, an attack by and nut-sorting squirrels, comic but sometimes grisly injuries, and a grotesque dental appliance. Depp’s portrayal teeters into creepiness. But the really creepy people in this movie are the children in who fall to their weaknesses (loosely speaking: gluttony, avarice, pride, and sloth) and are punished for not heeding warnings. The punishments appear dangerous, even fatal, but are not –- in all cases, the punishments are leveled as much at the parents who allow these characteristics as much as at the children. Characters are on a rough boat ride, on a magical elevator, play violent video games. They disobey parents, and name-call in a quirky but honest way. Characters who behave well are rewarded.
Families who see this movie might wish to discuss the differences between the five children who win the golden tickets and how the “lessons” -– sung by the Oompa Loompas (all played with panache by Deep Roy) —- have stayed relevant over the years since Roald Dahl first penned them in 1964. They might wish to discuss how the lessons highlight not just the child’s behavior but that of the parent. Which characters do you admire? What traits to you see you in yourself?
Families that like this movie should read some of Roald Dahl’s books, including “Mathilda”, “The Witches”, “James and the Giant Peach” and, of course, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.
All of the aforementioned have been made into enjoyable movies, including Tim Burton’s animated version of James and the Giant Peach. Parents might want to share the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) with their children.
Thanks to guest critic AME for this review.