Charlie and The Chocolate Factory review by Geoff Roberts

Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.

Geoff Roberts

Kathy Frame and Betty Wright would have liked Tim Burton’s treatment of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory thinking he got it right where other adaptations of children’s books had failed. The second-grade teacher at Faywood Arts Based Curriculum School in Toronto banned her students from watching movies based on books. She had the fear students would not only be disappointed but lose their ability to hang on to their imagination. Worst of all the television pictures and excessive use might erase the gift of mental pictures in their minds. Mrs. Wright would later take on those lessons learned several years later at the same school. She helped collectively churn out some of the most confident, famous (Rick Moranis) and creative people in a variety of fields.

Frame as did Wright told students what a gift imagination was. The second-grade teacher introduced her students to Charlie and The Chocolate Factory making each one of her pupils draw Oompa-Loompa’s, their ideas of what a chocolate factory would look like, Great Glass Elevator and characters such as Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop, Willy Wonka and our hero Charlie Bucket.

At the end of the year Frame hugged her pupils (which was allowed 21 years ago.) and told them even though they would become adults one day not to make the mistake most adults do. Adults are always forgetting how to imagine, act silly, and hold on to those creative mental images. Countless actors, musicians and writers who came out of those classes never forgot the life lesson taught back in second grade. It appears as though Tim Burton and Johnny Depp never forgot lessons like that either.

Burton is a perfectionist and we have learned that from films such as Batman, Mars Attacks, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Edward Scissorhands. The director always strives to take his actors and audience inside the minds, hearts and lives of his characters. He is forever presenting us with a psychological profile of each of them. For Charlie and The Chocolate Factory Burton who built Gotham City for Batman in 1989 and 1992 had the biggest challenge of all in presenting not only the charecters properly but the larger than life world they were in as well.

He knew intuitively that adult actors and sometimes child actors cannot get their heads wrapped around what they cannot see. Burton made the decision not to use blue screens that lead to wooden performances but instead create Willy Wonka’s world from scratch including edible props, scenery, and perhaps one of the biggest cinematic feats and mysteries. He spent countless months and weeks designing a working chocolate waterfall and river. This process took months to nail down the right consistency but Burton was hell bent on making the entire experience a reality for his cast and audiences. He succeeds where the 1971 Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory did not.

The previous film was too light hearted and did not focus on the actual moods, psychosis of the characters, and hidden lessons in the text of Roald Dahl’s novel. This movie version recreates all of it from depressing and gloomy atmosphere to the run down Depression era house and living conditions of the family. The factory itself looks as dark and gloomy as that era in history and the mind of its creator Willy Wonka himself.

It is important to note a few things before taking young children to this movie. For one thing notice that it is rated PG for a reason. Each winner of a Golden Ticket contest gets to be the only people to have come into Willy Wonka’s world and factory for decades. Like the protagonist each has a moral lesson they will have to learn. There is an underlying meanspirited tone here true of Dahl’s books meant to teach children the harsh realities of life through characters and hidden lessons.

There is a deeply religious undertone taken from the beliefs that there are Seven Deadly Sins with Charlie (Freddie Highmore), and Grandpa Joe (David Kelly) the only main characters who don’t suffer from one of them or meet sticky endings. Violet Beauregard likes to do everything to excess and be the best even if she has to step over who ever is in her way to do it. She suffers from the Deadly Sin called Pride. It is the excessive belief in her own abilities to the point of trying to destroy other’s attempts or ability to achieve in place of her.

Veruca Salt suffers from Envy and Greed and secretly desires to be like Willy Wonka but she realizes she cannot be like him and her curiosity is her downfall. Her constant desire for status, and wants of all things material to replace the love she does not feel from a cold father in James Fox’s portrayal is just one more example of this. Her rich father will buy her anything to shut her up.

Augustus Gloop suffers from gluttony and consumes more that he ever should require and everything he does is to excess and trying to gain. This is his downfall. An argument could be made for him also suffering from Lust with his eyes bigger than his stomach. He is always after his next fix which of course gives him a moment of happiness but ends up thwarting him and to downfall in the end.

Willy Wonka suffers from anger and spurns the love of a family, his father and society. When confronted he also is known for fury. One better not suffer his wrath because he is unpredictable. Every character possessing these traits does not have kindness or love in their hearts. Love and acceptance is all Willy Wonka really needs and he has to see he already has as a genius and vision known all over the world. He is in fact considered special.

He realizes that his candy hasn’t been good or pure for a long time and his visions second guessed. He needs fresh blood in someone possessing the kind of love, compassion, and creativity of a young child to take over from someone burdened by trying too hard. Thus he creates a contest and though it isn’t shown it is implied-- rigs it so each participant without a good heart and morals loses and pays dearly. This is interpreted as meanspirited but it also can be seen as a religious bent creeping in.

Johnny Depp is brilliant as Willy Wonka and deserves an Academy Award Nomination this year for his startling portrayal of a man who is viewed to be as wonky as his name. The character seems to be suffering all the time and lacks people skills and the ability to relate to adults. He also is delusional, perhaps even dangerous, creative, and brilliant. Notice for a moment when viewing the film his constant mood swings up and down and a crescendo that escalates to the height of delusion and what some would call madness. This performance may in fact be based on Tim Burton’s own battle with manic depression or Dahl’s own inadvertent comment on it.

Manic Depression after all has all these character traits but people like Willy Wonka capitalize on it knowing it is the precursor to brilliance. Perhaps in a way Willy Wonka doesn’t escape suffering and learning either. Depp plays well off of Highmore who starred with him in Finding Neverland. The two who work so well together are a terrific tag team. They certainly know how to set up a scene and play off one another. The film is sweet and scrumptious chocolate that should be enjoyed over and over again. Parents may want to wait for a DVD or until children younger than 8-years-old grasp fiction versus fantasy and reality. There are some sequences that will scare them.

While the 1971 version is tamer it also used musical numbers by the Oompa-Loompas which did not always have a reason behind them. Burton uses musical numbers wisely and gets creative turning the strange and mythical characters into their own band that combines the influences of the Beatles, hard rock, the Blue Man Group, and other 60s, 70s, and 80s bands. It is really effective and not in the slightest way syrupy. See this film it will reignite the passion and fires of your imagination.

It should be noted that if it were not for a girl named Lucy none of this would be possible. Her father Roald Dahl tested out all his ideas for books on her. Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and countless other Dahl creations are the products of her bedtime stories and feedback. Initially resentful as a child she doesn't view the books that way now. When Dahl died in 1990 the world was robbed of one of the greatest children's writers since C.S. Lewis. Not even Harry Potter can compare to these two authors. For biographical and other information on Dahl's creations check out the official site made in his memory.

10 out of 10 Jackasses

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