Monday, September 26, 2005

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY

Impure imagination

Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Freddy Highmore, Johnny Depp, Deep Roy, David Kelly

Tagline: The Factory Opens July 2005

While Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was a syrupy Technicolor masterpiece, joyous, camp, witty and dark as a Bourneville singularity if you want it to be, many of Roald Dahl’s objections to it were reasonable. Charlie was a loud, ungrateful Aryan posterchild incapable of expressing true relish while eating chocolate. The rounded-out ending in the glass elevator is too clean. Trained squirrels are infinitely more exciting than giant geese. Still. A remake? Fuck off. Why, the performances would have to be entirely brilliant! The design would have to capture the spirit of the original while being choc-full of further unpredictable candy contraptions! It would have to be grisly and funny, with all-new gags and updated politics! Who have you got to do all that? The guy who remade Planet of the Apes? Shit.

Why then is this a delight?

Well, the acting sells it. Violet, played by Anna-Sophia Robb, is dangerously perfect, as this excerpt of her web biography shows:

Of course, Anna-Sophia was ready for her busy life before the camera. She has competed in gymnastics since she was five, has won awards in Irish dance as early as seven, landed a national recurring radio voice-over at eight, and got her first TV and print commercial in Denver six months later (the ad is still in use). You might say that Anna-Sophia has danced her way to the movies, since she started by excelling equally well in jazz, hip-hop, break-dancing, and the Irish jig. But, she's also pretty terrific at swimming, skiing, running, and modeling. And when she's not working with animals, she's telling jokes and doing a bit of singing.

Jordan Fry’s Mike Teevee is pure Columbine terror and Julia Winter’s Veruca Salt a calculated it-girl to be. But the film has updated the political correctness and it is the parents who have become the real sinners gallery. The Gloops undergo the least change, the message more relevant than ever. Mrs Beauregarde is the dream-displacer, Mr Salt the panderer and Mr Teevee the denier. All the kids need is a little trauma to find their way, and Johnny Depp provides just the man-child to dish it out.
When the children finally meet Crazy Willy, the suspense is terrible. His first impression is even more theatrical than before, a marvelously awkward comedic car crash of sugar, music and violence. His simpering laugh is infectious, equal parts Michael Jackson and a nervous Muppet, much like the rest of him. His moodswings are wilder than Wilder’s, if not as loud, and his all-new backstory a fun-enough diversion for the younger viewers. Four foot four stuntman Deep Roy is also excellent as the entire Oompa Loompa race and pointless but amusing cameos from Mark Heap and Kevin Eldon raise a giggle.
Some of the touches are admittedly too Burtonesque; Charlie’s house is more warped-gothic than Jack Skellington’s, themes of father-son relations are a bit overegged and the Oompa-Loompa tunes continue Tim’s baffling love of funk in ways which might aggravate those who aren’t as into Thomas Dolby or Prince. A few set pieces could have been more interesting-looking (though others are as iconic as ever), but these are all minor quibbles. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a great golden beanfeast, cementing Burton’s reputation after a mildly shaky period as an altogether worthy dreamer of dreams.

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