Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Facial capturers, compositors, data wranglers and previs artists, some of the talented behind the scenes heroes responsible for making today’s films, join visionary director Tim Burton in a new version of Roald Dahl’s beloved fairy tale. More madcap than the original, with even more spectacular set designs and production values than its predecessor, Willie Wonka 2005 may be anathema to many older generation Wonka fans but will be pure delight for those too young to have experienced the original. The updated Wonka incorporates far more artistic wizardry than the 1971 version and has morphed into a film that incorporates a greater number of fast-moving action scenes, as evidenced by Charlie’s rollercoaster ride down the chocolate river and the magical flight of the magnificent glass elevator.

Screenwriter John August has followed the original script fairly closely but has also taken several liberties, such as adding more footage at the end of the film and neatly tying up a lot of loose ends in order to accentuate its feel-good outcome. Society has changed significantly over the past thirty-four years when the original Wonka movie was made, but the moral issues have remained a constant. The new film reiterates the message that both children and their parents must suffer the consequences of their various transgressions.

Most likely set in London in Victorian times, the story revolves around Charlie Bucket, a poor, yet sweet and honest boy (Freddie Highmore, one of Kate Winslet’s cherubic sons in Finding Neverland). In order to spruce up his chocolate business, Willy Wonka, chocolate maker extraordinaire, holds a contest and randomly plants five golden tickets in his Wonka bars, inviting the holders to a tour of his factory. In a stroke of luck, Charlie finds one of these golden dollars, and he and the other lucky winners gather at the front gate of the factory, a mammoth, castle-like structure complete with spires, to begin the tour.

Charlie and the grievously rude and self-indulged children who accompany him on their tour of Wonka’s factory are told that one of them will be awarded a prize at the tour’s conclusion. Given that this is a fairy tale, is there any reason to doubt that Charlie will win?The other four children are the over-indulged, spoiled, rich girl Veruca Salt; the fiercely competitive Violet Beauregarde; the greedy, gluttonous Augustus Gloop; and the haughty and violent Mike Teevee.All of the children, who display personality traits that their parents also possess, are exaggerated examples of child-raising going bad.

Willie Wonka, the reclusive and enigmatic candy maker, is played by Johnny Depp in his inimitable and wacky style.In this role, he is sometimes compared to the equally eccentric Michael Jackson, who, like him, suffers from a case of arrested development. Alternating between broodiness and silly, childlike behavior, Depp is far more flamboyant, complex and colorful than the far-gentler Gene Wilder was in the part, but he is every bit the dandy. Both scary and tender at times, he thinks nothing of chastising his ill-behaved guests for their bad behavior. His bizarre personality is most likely a product his tortured and sad childhood, which we experience in a series of flashbacks. Saddled with a grotesque dental apparatus and prohibited from indulging in his great love of chocolate by his sadistic, dentist father, Willie runs away from home to escape his terrible fate.

As the movie opens, a luscious river of chocolate is shown being poured into candy molds, and the viewer is given the opportunity to observe the entire production process of the candies, ending with the insertion of the golden dollars into each of the pristine chocolate bars and their subsequent journeys to locations around the world. Repetition, a running theme throughout the movie, provides stunning visual effects and is evidenced in the chocolate factory’s assembly line, Charlie’s father’s job at the toothpaste factory, and the workshop of the nut-cracking squirrels, as well as the song and dance routines of the oompah loompahs (who become increasingly annoying as the movie progresses). The functions of order and structure are a perfect contrast to the flights offantasy that are an inherent part of the film.

By the end of the movie, the nature of the big prize and its winner are revealed, all of the errant children are doled out punishments that are appropriate for their crimes, good triumphs over evil and, of course, Charlie and his family live happily ever after.

– Karen Berk