The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Reviewed by Neon Kelly.

Director Tim Burton
Length 115 min
Certificate PG
Rating *****-----
Filmmaking: 3  Personal enjoyment: 2

Photo from the article When news of this project first surfaced, a popular myth claimed that controversial goth-rocker Marilyn Manson was being considered to play Willy Wonka, the eccentric owner of the titular factory. Regardless of whether such unusual casting would have worked, the rumour proved to be oddly prophetic in regards to the character finally presented to us by Burton’s film. Johnny Depp’s Wonka is both colourful and inherently watchable, yet his character is notable for a detached chilliness that soon becomes unsettling. Sadly, this lack of warmth is ultimately a defining characteristic of the film as a whole.

The opening scenes do a fine job of laying out the legend of the mysterious Wonka: the factory itself is shown towering over the surrounding town, its very enormity tantalising us with the prospects of the guided tour that will come later in the film. On a visual level everything is well up to Burton’s high standards, the images bound within a typically tight colour scheme which clamours for attention whilst uniting the scenery. While we have, perhaps, come to expect such grand spectacle, the early sequences in Charlie’s run-down house are pleasingly effective in portraying the humble life of the Bucket clan. These moments capture the tone of Roald Dahl’s original book: Charlie and his family are living in poverty but they never complain, simply because they are good people. It is especially important that we like Charlie, as it is through him that the audience gets to enjoy the factory.

In light of Charlie’s importance, it is somewhat unfortunate that the poor boy is shoved to one side as soon as Wonka appears in the flesh. Charlie and Wonka have virtually no exchanges for the main body of the story, their lack of a relationship becoming painfully apparent when they finally do start talking in the film’s final acts. Wonka is the primary receiver of the film’s attention; between his unpredictable clowning and the hammy bitching of the other visitors it is all too easy to lose sight of Charlie. He is the most forgettable character in the story - a fairly fatal flaw, given that he is supposed to be the hero.

To give credit where it’s due, Johnny Depp’s performance proves once again that there are few better character actors working in Hollywood today. However, as good as Depp is, he simply does not fulfil the role his character should. The Wonka in Dahl’s book (and indeed Gene Wilder’s Wonka in Mel Stuart’s 1971 version) is an eccentric but one who retains his humanity, giving his unpleasant guests the benefit of the doubt until their own flaws get the better of them. Depp’s character doesn’t seem to care what happens to anyone, his childlike world-of-his-own behaviour being worryingly evocative of Michael Jackon. The film’s inclusion of a new Wonka-as-an-abused-child subplot does little to help this similarity.

Whilst far from being a complete failure, CatCF’s better moments stand in stark contrast to its problematic ingredients. The prospect of mixing Burton and Dahl was a tantalising one but without the much-needed chemistry between its two leads, the final result lacks magic.

This review was published on September 10, 2005.

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