Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

on July 15, 2005 by Christine James
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What is this, some kind of freak-out? The answer to that question, posed by an overwhelmed Violet Beauregarde in the 1971 original film, is yes and no. On the one hand, the current version isn't "rated PG for quirky situations" for nothing: Between Johnny Depp's fey, Michael Jackson-esque interpretation of whimsical candy magnate Willy Wonka and the "Dance Fever" stylings of the club-kid-clad Oompa-Loompas, it's fairly eccentric fare as summer blockbusters go. However, there's not much new behind the gates of the Wonka Factory for viewers who have the trippy Gene Wilder take seared into their memories.

The magic of the first film, and the Roald Dahl book on which it was based, was the thrill of fantastical discovery as five children win entry into the epic candyland that is Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. The worldwide fervor in the hunt for the Golden Tickets hidden in Wonka chocolate bars was far more palpable, and the wide-eyed glee at being led into a veritable candy landscape was as tantalizing for the audience as if we were there too. But when the tour commences with what looks like the original set transported through time from the early '70s, watered-down chocolate waterfall and all, it's hard not to feel let down that one of Hollyweird's most visually inspired filmmakers, Tim Burton, couldn't take such a rich opportunity to the next level.

Freddie Highmore (who shared a similar dynamic, though in a 180-degree-different way, with Depp in "Finding Neverland") brings a likable sweetness and enthusiasm to Charlie, the young hero of the piece, whose innate nobility stands out all the more in contrast to fellow contest winners Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde and Mike Teavee, who are all even more selfish and obnoxious than their 1971 counterparts. Comeuppances are colorfully meted out and lessons are learned -- or not -- but one might have to agree with the confrontational Mike Teavee when he demands, "Why does everything here have no point?" Though Charlie sagely counters that candy doesn't need a point, he's the only one who seems remotely excited about the confections... and even he carelessly -- nay, sacrilegiously -- leaves half-eaten candy bars along the way. There's no gulping liquid chocolate by the bucketful from the river; it's distracted sips from a ladle. It could just be life in a post-"Super-Size Me" world, but if you can't give in to temptation in the "Chocolate Factory," what is the point? Starring Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Christopher Lee and Deep Roy. Directed by Tim Burton. Written by John August. Produced by Brad Grey and Richard D. Zanuck. A Warner Bros. release. Comedy/Fantasy. Rated PG for quirky situations, action and mild language. Running time: 115 min

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