Reviewed by: Sheri McMurray
|Featuring||Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, AnnaSophia Robb, Helena Bonham Carter|
|Producer||Brad Grey, Richard D. Zanuck|
“There is no place I know that compares to pure imagination.” —Roald Dahl, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” —Pablo Picasso
Tim Burton has been working on his most beautiful inspiration yet, and if the audience with whom I watched the movie is any indication, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a very sweet confection indeed—a hardened shell surrounding a gooey and heartwarming center of humor and affection, sprinkled liberally with assorted nuts.
The film’s heart comes from Freddie Highmore (as Charlie), a gifted young performer who had a leading role in “Finding Neverland.” with Depp (who insisted Highmore must play the role of Charlie). Depp doesn’t rely on quirky mannerisms, but creates and inhabits a complete character, an eccentric whose serene facade is a veneer over an inner life of childhood woes. From the TV ads and movie trailers, it may look like Depp has finally lost touch with reality, but in the context of the film, he is right on the money. He is a most fearless actor, always willing to take a chance with his characters.
As a Christian viewer, I see this tale about an eccentric chocolate maker and a boy who embodies all that is good as a first-rate morality tale for children and adults. As you sit there look deep inside the story that surrounds you and drink in not just the lush images, but the spiritual significance that echos our Lord’s warnings about making wrong choices and the inevitable consequences involved.
Here’s the key to understanding choices and their consequences: God has set in motion spiritual laws for human beings that lead to good or bad results, depending on the choices we make. God tells us that if we rise above our selfishness, we build good character. If we fail to understand that, we fail to understand a great deal about God and His plan and purpose for us.
Based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl of the same name, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is about Charlie (Freddie Highmore who’s fine performance is sincere, deep and unforced) a boy from a poor but loving family, who lives in the town where Willy Wonka has his world-famous chocolate factory. Johnny Depp plays Wonka for laughs, of course! His droll sense of humor gets a laugh almost every time he opens his mouth and propels the film along.
Charlie’s family is so poor that they eat cabbage soup every night, and only once a year on his birthday, does Charlie get a chocolate Wonka bar. Both sets of grandparents share the dilapidated home with Charlie’s family, which includes his parents (Helena Bonham Carter and Noah Taylor). 1 Timothy 5:8 tells us our Holy God will take care of our needs. Hebrews 13:20 tells us what this little family knows—that God will provide everything you need.
A leisurely opening, related by Charlie’s favorite grandpa Joe (an endearing David Kelly), tells the history of the Wonka factory, from its beginnings to the fateful day when Willy found his special secret candy recipes were being stolen from the inside. Wonka subsequently fired his workers, grandpa Joe being one, and closed his gates to the public. In the 15 years since then, the factory has magically kept operating, some think through brilliant automation or perhaps some other mysterious means.
Charlie dreams of one day being able to go inside the factory, and his hopes are raised when one day Willy Wonka announces a contest: For five lucky children who find Golden Tickets in their Wonka Bars, the long-locked factory gates will open, and Willy will personally escort them through the factory. A special surprise is promised for only one of them who remains at the end of the tour. With just one day remaining before the tour, Charlie finds a Golden Ticket wrapped within his Wonka bar!
Now we are introduced to the four bratty kids who will vie for the prize: Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), a portly boy with his mouth constantly stuffed with chocolate; Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), a spoiled rich girl with her daddy wrapped around her little finger; Violet Beauregarde (AnnaSophia Robb), a bratty, competitive gymnastics champion; and angry Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry), a violent TV video-game addict.
Each child comes to the factory with an indulgent parent. Charlie brings his lovable grandpa Joe. As Willy Wonka turns the key in the magical lock of the door that allows this group to enter his world of candy confections, we see the wondrous landscape of chocolate rivers, colorful gumdrop trees, little pink lambs (whose wool is actually cotton candy), and rock candy mountains akin to the rapture felt when Dorothy first opens her door and steps from a world of black and white into a fantastic land of richness and color! Unlike the Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka is the real deal; nothing in his world is an illusion, including a glass elevator that travels in every direction.
This factory of wonders is run by the Oompa-Loompas who Willy has trained to harvest candy, mine the fudge mountains, and who take the wide eyed group in rowing seahorse-inspired Viking ships through churning rivers of chocolate. Oompa-Loompas (all played by the same actor, Deep Roy) are small, almost lemming-like creatures who are extremely adept at playing ’70s music and capable of dance numbers with a definite Busby Berkley twist.
Willy is remarkably self-controlled. He rarely says what he’s thinking, but the audience can read his thoughts—and his struggle to stay polite, as well as the frequent discord between his thoughts and his demeanor, becomes extremely funny. It becomes funnier, in fact, as the movie goes on. Through flashbacks, we are made aware that Willy Wonka has been out of social circulation for most of his adult life. He lives in his own imagination, surrounded by the Oompa-Loompas, and being around these kids—especially the four brats—is a real strain. It also brings up memories of his own childhood, in which Willy’s father, a dentist played by Christopher Lee, refuses to let young Willy eat any candy. (The dentist father also explains why Willy has blindingly white, ridiculously perfect teeth.) As a boy, Willy ran away from home to go on many adventures and eventually invented the most perfect candy in the whole world.
As the tour travels from one fantastic section of Wonka’s chocolate factory to the next, all four of the nasty children are eventually eliminated by their own greed and arrogance, leaving sweet, decent, innocent and good-hearted Charlie the last remaining tourist and the big winner of Wonka’s ultimate prize! But what is this extremely extravagant extra special reward? What does Charlie teach Willy along the way? That’s for moviegoers to find out, and the trip is well worth the secret!
I can see why Gene Wilder was moved to retract his earlier statement that Warner Brothers was making this film to cash in on the summer box office. After seeing Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Wonka and being exposed to Burton’s movie effects magic, Wilder was enamored with the outcome, hailing Johnny Depp as a “magical” choice to play Willy Wonka. Where Gene Wilder played the chocolate-maker as a fun-loving scamp who enjoys seeing bad little children get what they deserve, Depp portrays a man whose unhappy relationship with his father leads him to withdraw from his dad and go out to seek his own way in the world. By the time he re-enters the public eye, he is guarded about human contact and draws his social skills from a child-like innocence and his personal look from his whimsical, kaleidoscopic view of the world. Like a child who is poiniately honest with those he encounters in life, Wonka just blurts out what he is feeling at the time. Although hard for the adults around him to swallow, in the end, it is a most effective teaching experience for everyone involved.
I found a passing reference to “hell” in the film, but it went by so quickly that I am not sure if it was in reference to the place or to the profanity. I am more inclined to think the “place,” as the whole movie had no swear words, no violence (other than comic), and absolutely nothing sexual. There was a funny scene where someone was alluded to be swearing, but young Charlie’s ears were covered by his parents, and thus the audience couldn’t hear the tirade either.
Charlie wouldn’t give up his family for anything, not even the happiness promised him from Willy, the thought of having as much chocolate as he could ever dream of for a lifetime, or all the unimaginable sums of money offered him by complete strangers for his Golden Ticket. They’re poorer than dirt, but they have loving relationships, and that’s just fine with Charlie. He knows the values in life are not with instant gratifications or material comforts that blow away as quickly as they drop in your lap. We are taught that we must pay for the consequences of our selfish deeds. Selfishness brings bad results. Unselfishness brings good results. The choice is up to us. Within the elements of this film, there is a clear sense of family, respect for elders (and their wisdom), selfless loyalty, humility, love, and honor.
“And so shines a good deed, in a weary world.” —Willy Wonka
There is so much to be noted and learned within this story, that I find it hard to know where to start the comparisons. I commend Tim Burton for his playful and subtle treatment of the subjects, without being in-your-face preachy! Kids will get it, and adults will give a sigh of relief to know they will be able to let their kids enjoy this movie over and over again. If anyone could do it, Tim Burton was the right man for the job. He had already directed “James and the Giant Peach,” another Dahl creation. Burton went to Roald Dahl’s widow and got permission to do a new version of the story that is closer to the author’s original vision. He also made the right choice by giving Wonka a backstory that helps make a little more sense out of how and why he became a peculiar recluse.
With the screenplay by John August and music by Danny Elfman (delivering a knockout score that adds weight and drama to this familiar tale), Daryl Zanuck has proven he knows how to produce a winner (perhaps it runs in the family). Tim Burton again proves he can come up with something wildly unique, even with a story we already know and love. Tim Burton, at the top of his whimsical form, fashions a world of eye-popping colors and cinematic eye candy that shouts, “Turn me into a theme-park ride!”
From the beginning shots of Wonka Bars being produced in the factory to the ending as Charlie and his family help Willy Wonka win something even sweeter than his world renowned candy, I was enchanted. Missing this cinematic confection would be bitterly disappointing.