Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
There’s a chemical in chocolate that douses every neuron with the same cocktail that accompanies falling in love. That’s a heady sensation for a mere movie to duplicate, but Tim Burton’s interpretation of Roald Dahl’s salty-sweet children’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory comes pretty close. From the opening sequence of a maelstrom of swirling chocolate transforming into bars via the machinations of a vast gothic Rube Goldberg machine, Burton doesn’t miss a chance to ratchet up his sardonic whimsy to near-insulin shock levels. If he’d left it at that, this Charlie would easily surpass the 1971 Gene Wilder version in even the most hardened cultist’s hearts. But regrettably, Burton doesn’t.
Not to worry, there’s still lots to love here. Charlie (played by the exceptional and sensitive Freddie Highmore) is enthralled by the mysterious chocolate factory situated next door to his poor family’s ramshackle house. And this year, eccentric candy mogul Wonka announces he has enclosed in random candy bars five Golden Tickets entitling their bearers to the first glimpse of his sprawling factory in decades. Charlie knows he’s got a much slimmer chance of finding a ticket than the four undeserving monsters who’ve already got one—kinderschwein Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), limpid-eyed aristobrat Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), go-getter gumcracker Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb), and clock-tower sniper-in-training Mike Teavee (Jordon Fry). But lo and behold, soon Charlie is assembled at the factory with the other four to meet their mysterious host, incarnated by Johnny Depp as a prancing glam rocker with a Prince Valiant haircut, Polident choppers, and powdered skin as preternaturally smooth as a Pierre et Gilles photo.
Burton’s strength, as always, is creating outrageous visuals that inspire awe and heebie-jeebies in equal measure. (All the factory’s rooms are eye-popping, but the stark, Kubrick-y “TV chocolate” room is particularly stunning.) But Burton makes the fatal flaw of shifting focus from Charlie and this extraordinary experience he’s earned by dint of his grace, hope, and serenity onto Wonka, envisioned here as just another misunderstood and dandyfied weirdo instead of the off-kilter fairy godfather that Charlie deserves. Burton should have taken a deep breath, backed away from his own psychopathological need to remake Edward Scissorhands for the umpteenth time, and let his outrageous visuals run riot without even a smidgen of justification. Wise little Charlie even says it himself: “Candy doesn’t have to have a point. That’s why it’s candy.”