Sweet! Can Willie unseat Dorothy?
Unlike most of the movies that have been remade in the last few years, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was an ideal candidate. It has a cult of fans who originally saw it at an impressionable age or in an impressionable chemical state, but it wasn't a great movie.
Two things unavailable in 1971 were needed to make an ideal film version of Roald Dahl's novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (a title retained by the remake): director Tim Burton, whose visual imagination perfectly complements Dahl's bizarre storytelling; and computer-generated effects, which give live-action films the flexibility of animation. In fact, it's hard to tell where the trailer for Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (animated) ends and the opening sequence of Charlie... (live-action) begins.
"Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) was the luckiest boy in the whole world. He just didn't know it yet," Dahl wrote. Charlie lives in a literal lean-to with his parents (Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor) and all four grandparents (including David Kelly as Grandpa Joe). They're poor but loving, a close-knit, functional family. This is a fantasy, after all.
Their town's skyline consists of one building, Willy Wonka's candy factory. Formerly a major employer, it's now a mysterious, gated edifice which no one enters or leaves.
But five children are about to go in. As a sales promotion, Wonka has hidden golden tickets in five candy bars to be sold somewhere in the world. The tickets entitle the bearers to a tour of the factory, with one of them to receive an extra prize "beyond your wildest imagination."
Charlie's hopes of winning sink as the first four tickets are found– by Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), a fat German; Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), a spoiled Brit; Violet Beauregarde (AnnaSophia Robb), a gum-chewing karate kid from Atlanta; and Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry), a gamer from Denver.
Miraculously, Charlie gets the fifth golden ticket and tours the factory, led by Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) himself. It should be noted that Wonka's longish hair, high voice and gray skin may remind you of Michael Jackson, which could make you suspect his reasons for escorting children through a factory that resembles a theme park.
But fear not. He obviously doesn't like the kids, and his motives will be fully explained later.
In the factory we meet the tiny Oompa-Loompas (all played by Deep Roy), who were imported from Loompaland to replace the local labor force. In addition to making candy, they sing and dance on occasion, especially when a visiting child misbehaves and is punished fittingly.
Along the way we get some of Willy's backstory, how he was forbidden to eat candy by his father (Christopher Lee), a dentist, and had to leave home to find success as a chocolatier.
In this children's story for all ages, Burton winks at the audience with references to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Psycho, Oprah, and various musical styles. When they come to an area where pink sheep are being sheared and Wonka says, "I'd rather not talk about this one," is the wool being used for cotton candy or Ed Wood's angora sweaters?
The PG rating may be for the line, "Don't touch that squirrel's nuts. It'll make him crazy." There's nothing here to harm any child mature enough to sit through a movie.
The messages, about the importance of family and flossing, may be heavy-handed, but they're appropriately sugar-coated. Working from an excellent screenplay by John August (Big Fish) Burton makes magic happen constantly. The movie is endlessly inventive and relentlessly weird– in a good way.
A line about "the most something something of any something that's ever been" comes close to describing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It may be too soon to start comparing it to The Wizard of Oz, at least on a single viewing, but we're definitely talking about a classic fantasy film here.