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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 November 2006

Image When this remake of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” was announced a couple of years ago, the idea was met with much consternation. The 1971 original has become a much-beloved family favorite and a few generations have grown up with its deliciously twisted story, charming heart and memorable songs. How could a remake in the cold corporate world of the ‘00s even begin to compare? The easy answer is simple- by returning to Roald Dahl’s original book (and title) and visualizing parts of the story that were a technically impossible to do 30 years ago. Apart from that, Burton filters the story through his personal vision and gives it a completely odd ball charm that frequently catches you off-guard.

Reclusive, brilliant candy magnate Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) has kept himself locked away in his candy factory for decades. Unseen by the public for years, the world goes Wonka-crazy when a worldwide sweepstakes is held, with the grand prize a coveted tour through Wonka’s secretive factory. With only five possible winners of a ‘golden ticket’, an assortment of obsessive, spoiled and driven kids ends up claiming all but one of the tickets. Is there any hope for Charlie Bucket, (Freddie Highmore) a son in a poor, but loving family has been told tales of Wonka’s factory by his Grandpa Joe and dreams of winning the golden ticket? Of course, there is.

Johnnny Depp’s portrayal of Wonka adds another wacky characterization to his resume, but it’s an original one, thats miles away from his both his “Pirates of the Caribbean” character or his Edward Scissorhands role. Depp’s Wonka can best be described as off-kilter, and he portrays Wonka with a nervous mix of glee, social discomfort and mischief. He smartly doesn’t attempt to mimic Gene Wilder’s sadly haunted Wonka, but goes off in a completely different direction- his loopy, sheltered Wonka apparently has been out of touch for decades, his speech peppered with 60’s and 70’s slogans and song lyrics. He’s completely lost in his own world and his amoral glee in the bad kids’ fates is deliciously entertaining and matches the tone of Roald Dahl’s original. Burton and screenwriter John August have added a series of flashbacks, illuminating Wonka’s childhood and his relationship with his candy-hating dentist father (Christopher Lee). While seemingly superfluous, the Lee subplot enhances the overall story and gives the Wonka character a touching finale without overdoing it. The addition gives the film the quality of a fable.

Lovers of the original film might be shocked to read that the songs in this version are completely different. You won’t hear “Oompa, Loompa, Doopity-Doo” anywhere in this film. Instead, the song lyrics are based on the lyrics from the original book, which were not used in the 1971 motion picture. It’s an odd case (akin to “The Wizard of Oz”) where the popularity of the film version is so strong, that it’s almost completely supplanted the world’s memories of the original books. Since there’s an audience that knows the original film by heart, makes the filming of material from the original book seem fresh and interesting. I’m sure there were kids pining away for years, wishing they could see Veruca get her comeuppance via the squirrels, and here they’ll get their wish.

The songs, while faithful to the book’s lyrics are pretty far out there. Each one is done in a completely different style, riffing different decades (50’s jungle rhythm, a riotous Queen parody) and made completely surreal by the presence of Deep Roy. The diminutive Indian actor plays every single Oompa-Loompa, even the female ones. Roy performed each bit separately, which were then integrated digitally afterward. From the bonus featurette “Becoming Oompa-Loompa”, it was quite a time-consuming and exhausting task, and the final result is both bizarre and funny. While the lyrics are a bit hard to make-out on first viewing, the song numbers are inspired and very, very strange.

Visually, it’s a big cinematic cartoon- wildly bold, garish colors contrasting a cool, grayish white look for the exterior scenes. The color palette was apparently pushed even further in post-production via digital means, including altering the skin tones for several characters. Depp looks fairly normal in the behind-the-scenes footage, but his face has been manipulated on the computer and reduced to a pale whitish purple and softened, while Augustus Gloop and Mike Teavee have been pushed more toward an orange tan tone. The colors and design are so bold, that you may find yourself surprised at the huge amount of the film that was fully shot on completely designed sets. One naturally assumes that all the settings are digital effects, as in a “Star Wars” prequel. This aspect makes the bonus featurettes essential viewing. All are interesting and illuminating, particularly “Sweet Sounds” which showcases a bemused Elfman discussing his work on the songs and “Attack of the Squirrels” which shows how the squirrel scenes were done. As a bonus package, they raise appreciation for the film and enhance repeated viewings.

The HD DVD release is visually stunning. It conveys all the near fluorescent, gaudy, candy saturated color schemes with teeth-rotting vividness. The sharpness and clarity enables one to see every strand of candy grass and falling snowflake. The squirrels are so razor sharp, you feel as if you could touch their fur. It’s a superlative demo, purely for the saturation of the colors.

The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack has a lot of power and surround presence. The music has a throbbing impressive punch and is balanced high in the sound mix. The audio should be set a couple notches high to make the dialogue audible but Elfman’s music is entertaining enough that one doesn’t mind playing it loud. A True HD audio track, is included but only for the isolated music and song track, which will frustrate audiophiles. The isolated track sounds terrific, but one wishes that studios had figured out a way to encode the isolated track so that one didn’t have to wait through long sections of dead silence waiting for the music to return. There must be a better way to do this, and I hope HD DVD disc producers put some thought towards it.

The In-Vision experience here is more of a pop-up text trivia track, with the odd audio gag or sound effect, but it’s not involved or engaging enough to inspire one to sit through it for nearly two hours. Burton’s commentary is strong. He’s an attentive and revealing narrator and while the track has dead spots, what he says is interesting and worth listening too.

Forget the obnoxious Trailer and TV ad campaign that made this film seem fast paced and annoying. This 2005 remake is funny, charming and filled with enough bizarre life of its own to be worthy of the original. Recommended.

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