Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Tim Burton, USA, 2005
Tim Burton’s adaptation of Roald Dahl's 1964 children’s book Charlie
and the Chocolate Factory bends over backwards to remain faithful to its
source material (about an ultra-reclusive candy maker named Willy Wonka --
played by Johnny Depp -- whose "golden tickets," hidden inside special candy
bars, grant five lucky children a tour of his factory). Unlike Mel Stuart's
1971 film, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Burton's version
retains the book's title, and composer Danny Elfman has even restored Dahl’s
original lyrics, meaning there’s no “Candy Man” to be heard during this
updated tour of Wonka's fantasy playground.
Such faithfulness -- given the blessing of Dahl’s widow -- should
make for a more satisfying film than Stuart’s decidedly more creepily
psychedelic version. But there’s one change Stuart and crew made that proved
essential to Willy Wonka’s success: The expanded role of Mr. Slugworth.
Rather than simply being a ruthless competitor of the eccentric chocolate
maker, Slugworth turns into an employee of Wonka’s who bribes the five
children (four horrible monsters and beatific Charlie) to smuggle out an
Everlasting Gobstopper and bring it to him. This addition proved essential
to young Charlie’s ultimate test of being a worthy heir to the factory, and
it’s nowhere to be found in Burton’s interpretation. This is a case, then,
in which fidelity to the source material proves detrimental to the narrative
tension of the film.
Young Charlie Bucket (an impossible not-to-like Freddie Highmore) is
good-hearted and impoverished, willing to sell his golden ticket for cash to
help his family rather than visit Wonka’s mysterious factory. But with no
Slugworth to challenge him, what we’re left with is a warm but toothless
message about the importance of family -- a theme Burton, a recent
first-time father with Helena Bonham Carter (who plays Charlie’s mother in
the film), has latched onto lately (remember
Where the 1971 version expanded the role of Slugworth, Burton’s Chocolate
Factory instead gives us flashbacks to Wonka’s childhood. Thus we see
Wonka’s emotionally distant, well-regarded dentist father (played by the
great Christopher Lee) tossing young Willie’s Halloween haul into the fire.
(Why the stern Dr. Wonka would even allow his son, bedecked in elaborate
orthodontic headgear, to go trick-or-treating in the first place is never
addressed.) So instead of a devil-figure antagonist, we hope for a big
emotional reconciliation between Willy and his father, which generates
little dramatic momentum and falls into place with greased-gear ease.
But all is not completely lost. Burton still knows how to do dazzling
visuals: the Dickensian grimness of Charlie’s home and Wonka’s fantastic
candy-colored wonderland are a definite treat. Johnny Depp wisely avoids
imitating Gene Wilder’s zany, prone-to-rage Wonka and instead fashions a
socially maladroit germophobe with a Prince Valiant haircut and look
straight out of Austin Powers’ swinging ’60s London. Indeed, Depp’s
interpretation of Wonka as an alienated emotional cripple (arrested
development personified) proves one of the few instances where the film
reveals sharp edges.
But it doesn’t last. By the end, Willy’s tight with his old man and has a
new adopted family to play with in his chocolate paradise. Mel Stuart and
Gene Wilder understood that the best children’s films contain an underlying
threat and, crucially, a cost for one’s actions. Here, Charlie is never
challenged -- and neither is the audience.
design copyright © 2001-2011 Shaking Through.net. All original artwork,
photography and text used on this site is the sole copyright of the respective creator(s)/author(s). Reprinting, reposting, or citing any of the original
content appearing on this site without the written consent of Shaking
Through.net is strictly forbidden.