Tim Burtonís adaptation of Roald Dahlís much loved childrenís book is a surreal delight.
For all of its enduring popularity as a book, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory has never really received a satisfactory adaptation on TV or film. Until now, the darker edges of Dahlís imagination have probably put off studios but with the success of the Harry Potter films, childrenís books seem to be back in vogue. Step forward Warner Brothers and the director who was born to make this film – Tim Burton. Add in Johnny Depp, the actor who has collaborated with him on his best work (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood), and you have an extremely tempting prospect aswell as a chance to finally lay to rest the problems that dogged the over praised 1971 adaptation that Dahl reportedly hated.
For those unfamiliar with the story it concerns an enigmatic chocolate tycoon named Willy Wonka who, after a mysterious 20 year period of secrecy, opens up his factory for a childrenís competition. The deal is that 5 children who find a special golden ticket in one of his Wonka bars get to see the inside of his factory and one winner will get a lifetimeís supply of chocolate. The winners include a greedy fat German (Augustus Gloop), a bratty sports prodigy (Violet Bureaugarde), a spoilt rich girl (Veruca Salt), a TV obsessed know it all (Mike Teavee) and our eponymous hero Charlie Bucket. They get to see the inside secrets of how Wonka bars are made with the help of some diminutive workers called Oompa Loomps (here played by actor Deep Roy and multiplied through CGI).
Watching the new adaptation itís interesting to note how the dark pleasures of the book have been carefully preserved by Burton and his production team. There is no sweetening of the deserved comeuppances that befall the four wretched brats and the inside of the factory has a suitably unsettling feel to it, with sights that are unnerving and beautiful in equal measure. This quality is also personified in Johnny Deppís performance as Wonka. There is something slightly off centre and peculiar with his mannerisms, creating a persona that is as unpredictable as it is amusing (comparisons to Michael Jackson though, are well of the mark). The extended flashbacks to his childhood, although not in the book, are well handled and manage to fit snugly into the rest of the narrative.
In addition to Deppís fine performance, the rest of the film is almost cast to perfection with each of the children looking and sounding just like their literary counterparts. In particular, Freddie Highmore stands out as Charlie, managing to seem likeable and honest without ever resorting to excessive sentiment. As you might expect from a Burton film, the production design is first rate, including all the marvels depicted in the book: chocolate waterfalls, edible grass, and flying glass elevators. There is also a sly, demented strain of humour, no more apparent in an extended riff on 2001: A Space Odyssey and the inspired Oompa Loompa sequences in which Burton shrewdly uses one actor (Deep Roy) to portray the factoryís diminutive workforce. Faithful to the tone and spirit of Dahlís book, the film itself is a tasty confection: strange to look at, but full of tasty delights inside.
> Official Site
> IMDb Link
> Watch the weird trailer
> A stack of interesting links on the film at The Tim Burton Collective
> Interesting article on the appeal of Roald Dahl in The New Yorker
> Biographical profile of Roal Dahl