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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Review

By Shawn McKenzie 07/17/2005

I have seen all of Tim Burton’s films (I just saw Big Fish recently for the first time), and I love them all.  His latest, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, represents his ability to give the audience what they want, yet stay true to the source material.  Why he felt like he had to include a new character is what bothered me.

As we open the story, the narrator (Geoffrey Holder) tells us about Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore.)  Charlie is a poor kid from what looks like London (the town is never identified though.)  He is a good boy, and he has many people who love him, including his mom (Helena Bonham Carter) and dad (Noah Taylor.)  They all live in a rundown little shack with Grandpa Joe (David Kelly), Grandma Josephine (Eileen Essell), Grandma Georgina (Liz Smith), and Grandpa George (David Morris.)  The four grandparents sleep in a bed together…all the time…but they all love Charlie as well, and are excited to see him every time he comes home.  Dad works for Smilex Toothpaste, where he screws the caps onto the toothpaste.  It barely pays for the cabbage soup that his mother makes.  He comes home with defective caps for Charlie, who uses them to make a model of the factory of the famous candy maker, Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp), which is located just down the street from Charlie’s house.  Even though they are poor, Charlie’s parents still manage to get Charlie a candy bar every year for his birthday, since he loves chocolate, especially a Wonka Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight.  Charlie had wondered why Wonka had been so reclusive until now, and Grandpa Joe tells him why.  Twenty years ago, he worked in the factory.  Wonka was weird, but friendly, and many people throughout the world sought him out for his chocolate talents.  In fact, Prince Pondicherry (Nitin Ganatra) and his wife (Shelley Conn) had commissioned Wonka to build for them a palace made entirely of chocolate in his country located in the Middle East.  Even though he warned them that they wouldn’t get to keep it for too long and that they should start eating it right away, they didn’t listen, and the palace melted under the hot sun.  Joe worked for Wonka for five years, but he was let go, along with everyone else, because his competitors, like Prodnose (Chris Cresswell), Slugworth (Phil Philmar), and Finckelgruber (Tony Kirwood), kept stealing all of his secrets.  The factory doors were closed, but not long after, it started up again, but only the candy came out of it.  It seems though that Wonka has placed five golden tickets in five different chocolate bars now, and the tickets are an invitation to tour the huge factory, with the promise that one of the ticket holders will get a special prize at the end.  Grandpa George predicts that only rich, fat kids will get the tickets, because they can afford to get many bars every day.  Sure enough, it’s not long before a very fat boy from Dusseldorf, Germany named Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz) wins the first ticket.  His parents (Harry Taylor and Franziska Troegner) seem to encourage his gluttony, so they aren’t surprised that he won the first ticket.  Next up is Veruca Salt (Julia Winter) from England.  She is a spoiled rich girl who demands everything that she wants from her parents (James Fox and Francesca Hunt.)  Her father owns a nut plant called Salt’s Nuts, and he has the plant workers stop shelling nuts and start shelling chocolate bars.  When the plant worker (Jynine James) who finds the ticket gives it to Mr. Salt, he in turn gives it to Veruca, who smiles and then demands another pony.  The third kid is Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb, a native of Denver) from Atlanta.  She is a martial artist and a competitive gum-chewer (she has been chewing her current piece of gum for three months.)  Her parents, especially her mom (Missi Pyle), are as highly competitive as Violet, and mom wants Violet to go after the prize by any means necessary.  The fourth ticket winner is Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry) from Denver.  He is a television and video game addict, but apparently, he is also very intelligent, because he figured out where the ticket was using mathematics.  His dad (Adam Godley) also encourages his obsessions.  Meanwhile, Charlie’s dad and mom, along with the grandparents, hope that his birthday present, the annual chocolate bar, will contain one of those tickets, which they give to him the day before his actual birthday.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t, and good little Charlie shares the bar with the rest of the family.  That’s just more salt in the wound though; dad just got laid off from Smilex, because the toothpaste plant brought in a machine to replace him.  The next day, Joe gives Charlie some money to buy one more bar, which he does.  He brings it back, but it doesn’t have a ticket either.  The day after that, he hears that a Russian kid has found the fifth ticket.  He is bummed, but he finds a bank note in the street, and he uses it to buy one more bar.  While purchasing it, he overhears two customers in the candy shop saying that the Russian kid was a fake.  Charlie opens the bar, and it has the fifth ticket in it.  A man (Colette Appleby) offers him $50 for the ticket, but a woman (Debora Weston) sweetens the deal and offers him $500 for it.  The shopkeeper (Oscar James) tells him to run right home and show it to his parents.  Everyone is excited about the ticket when Charlie shows it to them, especially Joe, but the boy tells them that he doesn’t want to go, because he wants to accept the woman’s offer of $500 for the ticket.  George talks Charlie into going anyway, so he brings Joe, since he used to work there.  All of the kids, with one parent accompanying them, show up the next day at 10 AM.  They go through the front gate, and they are welcomed by a bunch of animatronic robots singing to them…which promptly catch fire.  Wonka shows up and brings them on the tour.  He introduces them to the Oompa Loompas (all played by Deep Roy; Danny Elfman supplies the singing vocals), who serve as his workers.  Wonka found them in the jungle of Loompaland, and he brought them back with him to live and work in the factory.  He pays them in cocoa beans, since they love the beans thoroughly (and they only have a few of them in Loompaland.)  Though Wonka loves candy, he isn’t really too fond of children, since he had a miserable childhood himself.  He has several flashbacks to when he was a kid, and his dentist father, Dr. Wonka (Christopher Lee), who hated candy, forced a young Willy (Blair Dunlop) to wear dental headgear all the time.  After tasting candy for the first time, his father scolded him, and the young Wonka ran away, starting up his candy business.  As Wonka continues with the tour, the “bad kids,” i.e. all of the kids except Charlie, manage to get themselves into one scrape after another.  If the last remaining kid makes it all the way through the tour though, that kid will get the prize in the end.

I have read both the original 1964 Roald Dahl novel and have seen the original 1971 movie that starred Gene Wilder as Wonka.  Burton made a decision to adapt the book, using a script by his Big Fish screenwriter John August, rather than remake the original movie, and I think that most people will be happy about the result.  It is faithful to the book…except for one detail.  Burton included Lee’s character in the movie, possibly to explain Wonka’s distain for both the kids and their parents.  Why Burton decided to do this I don’t understand, and I haven’t found any other critic who has brought this point up yet.  There is nothing wrong with Lee’s performance…I just don’t know why he was needed.

If you are a hardcore fan of the original movie, but haven’t read the book, you might be a little miffed by Burton’s version.  Dahl hated the original movie, and therefore he would not sign over the rights to adapt the 1972 sequel book, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.  The first movie had golden gooses laying “bad eggs;” this version has squirrels disposing of “bad nuts.”  The first movie had Charlie and Joe sampling some Fizzy Lifting Drinks; this version doesn’t have that scene, though the drink is mentioned in the book.  There is no psychedelic trip-out scene in this version, like there was in the original (the image of the giant eyeball and the decapitation of the chicken always freaked me out when I was a kid.)  There is no “Candy Man” in this version (I was almost expecting them to do a cover version by Prince or something.)  We get to see the fates of the bad kids at the end of this movie, which was something that was left out of the original (but it was in the book.)  Dahl’s wife, Felicity Dahl, gave her blessing on Burton’s version, and she executive-produced the movie as well (Roald Dahl died in 1990 of leukemia.)

This is Burton’s fourth collaboration with Depp, following 1990’s Edward Scissorhands, 1994’s Ed Wood, and 1999’s Sleepy Hollow (he also has Corpse Bride coming out in September with Depp.)  I thought Depp was perfect as Wonka, but I wonder what it would have been like with some of the original choices considered for the role.  Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Nicolas Cage, and Michael Keaton were all considered for the role, but the one who went after it the most aggressively was goth rocker Marilyn Manson.  While Manson would have been appropriately creepy in the role, his acting experience has been limited to a few cameo roles, so I’m pretty sure that they might not have wanted to leave a big budget movie in his hands.  Ironically, Depp used Manson as his inspiration, though I didn’t see it myself here.

The other cast members were all just supporting characters to Depp, including Highmore.  The boy was actually brought over by Depp, based on his performance with the actor in the Oscar-nominated Finding Neverland.  Charlie was always a boring character anyway, but Highmore did a decent job playing him.  Winter (in her debut role) and Robb were the most memorable kids, mainly because they were the brattiest.  I’m so happy that Robb’s career has taken off, since I am from Denver myself.  Her range is great, having appeared in two good girl roles, the WB’s 2004 Christmas TV movie “Samantha: An American Girl Holiday” and this year’s Because of Winn-Dixie, and now as a nasty little girl.  I see big things for her in the future.

I am happy with Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and aside from the Lee part, it proves to me once again that he is one of the all time great directors.  His visions for his projects manage to be colorful and very dark at the same time.  I bet that he could make the phone book entertaining!  Check this one out with your kids…it will go down smooth like chocolate.


Get the 1971 movie on DVD:

Get the soundtrack score composed by Danny Elfman, including five Oompa Loompa songs, all sung by Elfman himself:

Get the 1964 novel written by Roald Dahl:

Get the 1972 follow-up novel by Dahl, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator:

Get the Take2 Interactive Software video game in five different formats:

Game Boy Advance:





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