Sunday, July 17, 2005

All wrapped up in a neat and tidy package

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory I've had a night to sleep on it and a day to think about it. I didn't want to rush to judgment on something as important as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As you might guess from the fact that this is my second post on the Wonka Mythos, Roald Dahl's story means a lot to me. Here are my thoughts, as spoiler-free as I can make them.
The Good
Johnny Depp successfully conveys Wonka's essential sadism. Like other glove-wearers W.C. Fields and Michael Jackson, he despises children, doesn't even want to touch them. (Oops. Best not take that Jackson analogy too far.) And the only thing Depp's Wonka hates worse than children is their p-p-parents. It's safe to say that Wonka, like his creator Dahl, is a misanthrope. Casting shines. I never much cared for Peter Ostrum's Charlie (1971), or Jack Albertson's Grandpa Joe. I thought the true stars of the original movie were Gene Wilder and Julie Dawn Cole (the "I want it NOW" girl, Veruca Salt, cool enough to get an alternative band named after her -- my #1 goal in life, by the way), with an honorable mention to Gunter Meisner (Slugworth). Everyone else in that flick? Feh. In the new CCF, Depp creates a Wonka who is every bit as memorable as Wilder's Wonka -- not better, but decidedly different. This cast, however, has lots of merit. Helena Bonham Carter (as Charlie's mom) is looking less chimp-like with every post-Apes film; Noah Taylor plays Charlie's dad. Taylor might be most memorable from his parts in Tomb Raider and The Life Aquatic, but I remember him best from Max, a 2002 film with John Cusack, in which Taylor played a young Adolf Hitler. Freddie Highmore and David Kelly (as Charlie and Grandpa Joe) are likable without being nukable. This is an especially important quality for Charlie, since he's so damned squeaky clean he might otherwise be gag-worthy. The new CCF lacks Julie Dawn Cole; I was hoping she'd have a bit role. But Julia Winter's Veruca Salt isn't half bad. The other kids do a nice job, but nothing too memorable. Missi Pyle's a stand-out as Violet Beauregarde's mom; the way she looks at the men (even Depp, whose sexuality in this movie is ambiguous, to say the least) sez 'balls-for-lunch' to me. Her ferocious stare reminded me of the alien-prostitute in Mars Attacks. Tim Burton might be repeating his jokes, but I forgive him. Christopher Lee plays, well, Christopher Lee. You'll know what I mean when you see his performance. His discussion of the horrors of caramel and lollipops had me laughing. The Oompa Loompas? Big improvement on the original. The songs are funny this time around, not preachy (weeell . . . one of 'em is preachy), and Deep Roy is fun to watch. Finally, the set design rocks, but would you expect less from Burton?
The Bad
Screenwriter John August (Big Fish) has grafted a backstory onto CCF. While this does bring Christopher Lee into the movie (a good thing), it also turns the tale into something as two-dimensional as Mike Teavee. Good parents are good. Bad parents are bad. Get it? Let's repeat: Good parents are good . . . Indeed, I sensed a lot of effort to vet all ambiguity out of the original screenplay. Remember how, in the 1971 flick, you never found out whether the bad kids survived their squeezing/taffy-pulling etc.? Let's just say their outcome is no longer left in doubt. Just to make sure you understand the movie*, Depp begins the flick a nauseous shade of green, not unlike my son's undead warlock in World of Warcraft. By the end, he's warm and pink. Last kvetch: our expectations are repeatedly raised, with no pay-off. Missi Pyle's man hunger? It goes nowhere. Violet and Veruca announcing to one another, "Let's be best friends! -- Best friends, forever!", then walking off together, arms linked -- that's gotta lead to something, right? Nope.
The Bottom Line
On a one to four Wonka Bars scale, I give this a three. That's what I would give the original, too. Jake -- my nine-year-old -- would give this movie a four**, so take my crits with an everlasting gobstopper. Next up for Burton Watchers: Corpse Bride, an animated feature film in the style of The Nightmare before Christmas. D. *Wasn't it Woody Allen who had a film in which they repeatedly flashed "Author's Message" on the screen? **Jake has read this review, and he says, "Three-and-a-quarter Wonka Bars. I deduct almost a whole Wonka Bar because the movie ignores Charlie." So there. Pay careful attention to your protag, you YA writers!
Tonight on Chelicera: my lovely wife explains how to detonate weapons-grade uranium -- the easy way!
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Blogger Pat said...

Coincidentally, last night on TV, they showed the "Pawtucket Pat" episode of Family Guy, which was a riff on the 1970s Chocolate Factory movie, set up as a tour of a beer factory. The Oompa-Loompas were replaced by Chumbawumbas...

7/19/2005 05:31:00 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

Oh, and I am very much looking forward to Corpse Bride. I think The Nightmare Before Christmas is the best Christmas movie ever made.

7/19/2005 05:32:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Me, I'm still partial to Jean Shepherd's A Christmas Story. Peter Billingsley and Darren McGavin are wonderful in that.

I haven't seen that Family Guy episode yet. Chumbawumbas, eh?

7/19/2005 08:02:00 AM  
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