I have a tolerate/hate relationship with Tim Burton. I tolerate Ed Wood, and hate everything else he's ever made. His signature style, combining a ripoff of Edward Gorey drawings, and a penchant for microscopic close-ups leaves me cold.
And, in all fairness before you read, or I go, any further, let me state for the record that I am a fan of the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, so if you love the source material and hate David Selznick's treatment of it, then go read another review. I was exposed to the original film before reading Roald Dahl's story. Sure, the novel is more detailed and a little deeper than the 1971 film, but at least David Selznick had the smarts to keep Wonka's subdued menace from the book and still add a tremendous amount of weird whimsy to the film.
Tim Burton and whimsy go together about as well as milk chocolate and broken glass.
Another point about the original, Selznick reworked Roald Dahl's the screenplay and replaced much of Wonka's dialogue with quotes from famous lit such as Shakespeare, Keats, and Ogden Nash. And while that reduces much of Wonka's in-book menace, it adds to the enigmatic nature of the character.
I recently watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with my kids, Ian (he's almost 6) and Meg (she's 2). And I was totally cool with presenting them with a flick in which more than half of the principal cast is killed offscreen, Augustus – fudged, Violet – exploded into blueberry juice, Veruca – incinerated, and Mike – killed on the taffy pull, because even my kids can understand that the film is a little morality play about what it means to be a good or bad kid.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is also a morality play, and follows five "lucky" children as they are led on a tour of the mysterious candy factory of Mr. Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) just like the original, and the flaws of each archetypical child lead to their downfall.
Meet Charlie Bucket (Freddy Highmore), he's the poor son of a toothpaste-tube filling dad (Noah Taylor), brown toothed mom (Helena Bonham-Carter), and four bedridden grandparents. They are very poor. Charlie works as a bootblack in town and the family can only afford to eat cabbage soup. Grampa Joe (David Kelly) used to work at the Wonka factory before crazy paranoid Willy fired all his employees.
Wonka announces that he is going to open his factory to five kids. Gaining entry to the factory requires possession of a golden ticket, hidden inside five of Wonka's candy bars.
Charlie's family is so poor that they have to save all year just to have enough money to buy Charlie a single Wonka bar for his birthday. And judging by his age, which appears to be about 6 years old, he's only had three or four of them in his whole life.
But that's okay because his family indulges his obsession by sitting back as Charlie constructs an elaborate scale model of the chocolate factory from damaged toothpaste caps.
Grampa Joe tells a couple of stories about Mr. Wonka too, one of them to explain that because so many spies from other candy companies were stealing ideas from the factory Wonka fired everyone, and another about how Wonka built a giant chocolate palace for Prince Pondicherry in India, which immediately melted. The film slows to a crawl whenever we flash back to the tales of Willy Wonka, and we flashback a whole lot. When you hear them say "why don't you tell the story about the Indian Prince" that should be your cue to go for a drink, or take a long whiz, because you'll miss nothing.
Anyway, Charlie wants to find a golden ticket but with so little income it's next to impossible as winning requires the purchase of chocolate bars. Grampa George explains that only kids who eat candy everyday will ever win the ticket. He then predicts that the first one to win will be a fat kid.
Meet Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiergratz). He's a fat kid. He's also German and manages to be the only actual German in the film who can't do a German accent. Anyway, we meet him as he stands with a half eaten chocolate bar in the front of his parents' sausage shop. He explains that he ate part of the ticket.
We've already got the glutton, Augustus, now we meet the obnoxious twat.
The next ticket goes to Veruca Salt (Julie Winter). Her father (James Fox) owns a peanut business and puts his workers to the task of shelling chocolate bars instead of nuts until they find the golden ticket for Veruca. Mr. Salt is totally emasculated by his obnoxious daughter such that he manages to convey no emotion at all at any time during the film, ever. They could have used a mannequin for Mr. Salt and it would have been the same.
You know, now that I think about it, all of the parents could have been played by mannequins and it would not have harmed this production in any way.
But I digress. Okay, we have gluttony, vanity, now it's time to add ultra competitiveness, which isn't technically a deadly sin, but it might as well be for this film.
Meet Violet Beaureguard (Anna Sophia Robb), she's a blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do, and holds several trophies for her ability to chew gum for a really long time. Her mother Mrs. Beaureguard (Missi Pyle) is an enabling twit/competitive stage mom.
As these characters are being introduced things are looking more and more awful for poor, poor Charlie. Dad loses his job capping toothpaste tubes to a robot arm and with only one golden ticket left there doesn't seem any way that Charlie can raise his family out of poverty.
They still celebrate Charlie's birthday and give him a Wonka Bar. With no ticket inside the present is sort of a downer but Charlie breaks the chocolate up and gives it to his family.
Awwww…. Nice kid.
Grampa Joe stokes the kids hopes though and gives Charlie money for a bar. Then lords over him as he opens it revealing – chocolate and no golden ticket. Doh!
Finally we meet Mike Teevee (Joran Frye) who managed to figure out which chocolate bars have the golden tickets based on the date the contest was announced and lot numbers and a bunch of other technical whiz bang stuff that make him hipper than Charlie. Whatever, he's also an obnoxious asshole and know-it-all.
An announcement is made that the fifth ticket has been found in Russia. Poor Charlie, well, at least the pressure of winning is off, and to make things better, he finds a ten-pound note in the snow on his way home from school.
(This is actually sort of important so pay attention.)
Charlie takes the money to the news shop on the corner and buys a Wonka Bar. Meanwhile the customers inside are discussing the breaking news that the Russian ticket was a fraud. Charlie buys a Wonka Bar, oblivious to the talk going on around him and opens it to find a Golden Ticket.
Wow! Great! He actually got one! (wouldn't be much of a movie if he didn't). One of the customers offers Charlie ten dollars for the ticket; another offers five hundred dollars. The store clerk tells Charlie to run home.
Why are there two Americans at this news agent shop? The kid clearly lives in a fantasy-like UK, uses UK money, and has parents with UK accents and a mom with UK teeth. Why the fuck wouldn't they offer him Pounds Sterling? Oh, right, Tim Burton is an American and doesn't understand international currency, or worse, imagined that his audience wouldn't. At any rate (no pun intended) this sort of lack of attention to detail is just one of the little tiny things that made me hate this movie.
Charlie runs home with the ticket and immediately shows it to his family. Since Grampa Joe used to work at the place, it's decided that he will accompany Charlie on his voyage through the CGI… er… Wonka's chocolate factory. Now, I was fully prepared not to hear any musical numbers in this abysmal film, but as Grampa Joe was stumbling around the little gnarly cottage where the Buckets live I couldn't help but imagine Jack Albertson and Peter Ostrum singing, "Good morning! Look at the sun!"
And thus my heart broke just a little more.
The grand tour takes place tomorrow and we cut to the outside of the factory, which, borrowing visually from the 1971 film, looks like the Munich Electric Works. Still, since this is a Tim Burton film the wrought iron gate is twisted and surreal. Anyway, the kids enter when the gate opens and sort of stumble towards the entrance. Once the gate closes and the gaggle of visitors is near the entrance a door opens and a group of little robot dolls begin their Willy Wonka song, which is patterned on the It's a Small World ride at Disney World. The lyrics to this annoying jingle come straight from Dahl's book, and they are fine, but the musical productions here and in the rest of the film will either have you cheering with joy because you like Danny Elfman/Oingo Boingo or wanting to gnaw off your legs, or the legs of your neighbor because you hate Danny Elfman/Oingo Boingo.
I am over the latter. So, rather than cripple myself with toothmarks, I made up my own lyrics to the annoying song (and all the others) as they played out.
Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka, I really fucking hate him
Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka, let's all decapitate him…
At the end of the number a throne rises behind the robot dolls, but it's empty and the dolls begin to burn because of the way the fireworks are set up, this for some reason this also ruins the annoying musical track so it's all slowed down and warbly (well, more than usual).
Gee, a little foreshadowing that everything we see in the factory won't be as nice and sweet as the kids are led to believe?
The problem with introducing this concept in this manner is that its stupid, we've already learned second hand that Wonka is nuttier than squirrel shit and a paranoid loon from Grampa Joe's stories of working on the factory, so this whole pointless number simply sucks precious moments of your life away.
And to contrast it with the way Wonka is introduced in the 1971 film, we first meet Wonka as he limps out to meet the kids at the gate, then somersaults after he loses his cane. This, Tim Burton, is whimsy.
No one manages to notice that Wonka (Johnny Depp) has joined the visitors to watch the little robot doll show (because he was out of frame) until he claps. When asked why he wasn't on the throne he answers that he couldn't have enjoyed the show from behind it.
Grampa Joe says he is glad to be back at the factory and asks if Wonka remembers him. Wonka replies, " Were you one of those despicable spies who everyday tried to steal my life's work and sell it to those parasitic copy-cat candy-making cads?"
Oh, um… okay.
Meanwhile the robots are melting and burning as he leads the kids and their parents through into the factory. Now we actually get to the meat of the story. As the group walks down a long CGI hallway the kids begin introducing themselves to Wonka, Violet goes first, then Veruca, then Augustus, and Mike TV. Wonka doesn't really give a shit who they are, and he cares even less for their parents. In fact, as Depp illustrates with a stammer, Wonka has problems with the whole concepts of parents in general. He does notice that Charlie doesn't introduce himself and remarks, "and you're just lucky to be here aren't you?"
Charlie and especially Grampa Joe could be eaten by rabid box jellyfish at this point and no one would even notice because the film has ceased to be about Charlie at all. Now it's about Wonka and his father issues.
And again, comparing the 1971 film to this one, Charlie was given a flaw in Selznick's rewrite, he stole Fizzy Lifting Drinks, to keep him part of the overall story. But here Charlie from this point on could be played by Damon Wayans, or Herve Villachez' skeleton, or a partially trained human/alien hybrid and you wouldn't notice. Charlie has no flaw, he has no reason to even exist at this point other than to be the one who wins the one-winner-only "special prize" at the end of the tour.
Hooray, not only do I hate game shows like Survivor, I hate them in film. Now, rather than the kids being picked off one by one only for their foibles, they are competing with each other for this final prize.
Blah. Yeah, yeah, it's in Dahl's book, but who cares? It's another level of abstraction that doesn't contribute to the plot at all.
We don't get the sense of wonder that the 1971 flick provides either, we're in, wham bang, and into the chocolate room CGI where the characters barely interact with a room in which everything is edible. It's a nice looking set that borrows liberally from the set design of the 1971 film too, only there is no "world of pure imagination…" song.
We get nothing other than a weird reference to cannibalism from Wonka when he explains that everything in the room can be eaten and that the group should go and entertain themselves in the, sing it with me now! "World of com-puter ani-mation".
And we get a few fleeting shots of the kids and parents doing just that, but I am talking maybe 10 seconds, total, before it's back to green-screen theater. Think about how the 1971 film did the chocolate room sequence. For the one time, probably in the lives of all the characters, they were all allowed to be kids. Parents scooped candy into their mouths without regard for anything other than the pure pleasure of eating candy. Meanwhile here it's much more ominous, Voilet's mom eats like she's a bulimic. None of the other parents eat anything. Mike TV smashes some pumpkins because that's how he "enjoys himself".
The scene is waste.
Augustus, of course, falls into the chocolate river and is sucked up by the siphon pipe, and as the Oompa Loompas (all played by a CGI repeated guy named Deep Roy) sing the Dahl authored "Augustus is a fat pig and has to die" song.
This musical number is both agonizingly long, and impossible to understand. I actually had to go and look the lyrics up online to understand what Danny Elfman (he provides the Ooompa Loopa voice) was saying.
The 1971 film with Selznick's songs actually imparted the morality lesson in less than 10 seconds, here it takes three minutes of agony and a translator. The musical numbers are supposed to be fun and whimsical, but the garish colors and obvious digital doubling made me want to smash my TV into tiny smoking pieces.
Everyone wonders why the Oompa Loompas already know Augustus' name. Wonka shrugs and suggests that maybe they overheard it being spoken.
So finally we get another more shadowy motivation for Wonka, he plans to whack each of the kids ahead of time, even to the extent that he lets the Oompa Loompa's write a song about what an asshole each one of the kids is.
Me, I'd have been running for the door of this place before they even got through the first bar, but since all of our characters are idiots, they stay on for the remainder of the tour.
Wonka sends Mrs. Gloop off to the fudge room to find her kid with one of the Oompa Loompas.
Mike TeeVee's dad asks where the Oompa Loompa's came from and Wonka answers "Loompa-Land". And, like in the 1971 version, Mr. TeeVee is a geography professor and doesn't believe him. Rather than have Wonka simply sum it up as Mr. TeeVee should already know about the place, we get a long flashback courtesy of CGI theater that explains how Wonka found the tribe of Oompa Loompa's and brought them to work at his factory.
It involves a reverence for the cocoa bean.
Another pointless diversion from the story, thanks Tim!
Anyway, back on the tour we get to the Wonkatania bit where the remaining people climb aboard Wonka's special boat. This is probably the most remembered and quoted scene in the 1971 film, and the only one in that film to use one of Roald Dahl's actual songs.
There's no earthy way of knowing
Which direction we are going
There's no knowing where we're going
Or which way the river's flowing
Is it raining?
Is it snowing?
Is a hurr-i-cane a blowing?
Not a speck of light is showing
So the danger must be growing
Are the fires of Hell a glowing?
Is the grisly reaper mowing?
The danger must be growing!
Because the rowers keep on rowing!
And they certainly aren't showing!
Any signs that they are slowing!
STOP THE BOAT!
I love that scene! I first saw it as a terrified 5 year old on the little TV in my bedroom as a kid and it gave me the first real scare I ever got from a film. So, when I started watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory I stated that if they did this one scene well, then I would give the film a pass no matter how different, good or bad, the rest of the film was.
Tim Burton offers the scene this way –
Charlie: "Is that a tunnel?"
Charlie: "How can they (the rowers) see where they are going?"
Wonka:" They can't"
Insert CGI of boat going down a swirling tunnel.
That's it. That's the entire scene. Fuck you Tim Burton! But that's okay right? Instead of at least paying homage to the classic original scene, we get some CGI of the other rooms in the bowels of the factory where they make whipped cream by whipping a cow. Woo hoo moooo. Die Tim Burton, die.
Into the inventing room we go and more CGI excitement. And again, rather than letting anyone interact with the machinery in there, or offering any sense of fun or whimsy, Wonka say "this is an everlasting gobstopper you can suck it for a year and it never loses its flavor". He doesn't give any of them out. He then shows the gum-making machine (also presented in glorious CGI. Violet takes the gum, balloons into a blueberry, and we get -another Loompa-song, this one even more annoying than the first, about Violet. And again, I had to search the Internet for the lyrics because the production is so goddamn relentlessly awful.
Exit Violet, now a CGI blob, and her bitchy mother.
No one cares. No one even mentions that she, or her mother, is gone for the rest of the film.
The guests press on through the factory to Verucas death… er… the nut sorting room where Wonka has several hundred trained squirrels shelling walnuts for his candy. Since Mr. Salt is in the nut business he begins peppering Wonka with questions about which machines he uses. Wonka's reply –
Have I said yet that I wanted to kill Willy Wonka?
Anyway, Veruca, being a demanding bitch (but nowhere near as demanding and awful as Julie Dawn Cole in the 1971 film) wants a squirrel "nooooowwwwwwwww". Mr. Salt offers to buy one from Wonka but is rebuffed. Veruca storms the squirrel floor and, after a cry of "don't touch the squirrel's nuts!" is attacked and evaluated by the squirrels then dragged to the chute leading to the incinerator.
Sounds pretty much like the Golden Goose scene, yes? The thing is in this one Wonka and the others are separated from the squirrels by a knee-high gate. Seriously, it's knee friggin high, and Mr. Salt just stands there waiting for Wonka to find the key to open the little gate so he can try and rescue her from the squirrels.
I don't generally yell at characters in movies. Sure, I make snide comments occasionally, or replace their stupid lines with my own, but I almost never yell. However, I made an exception for this film and screamed "just step over the fucking gate you idiot!"
The pacing of the scene is so bad, so ludicrously awful, that I hoped the squirrels would leap out of my TV and slaughter me. Even my son, who is, as I mentioned earlier, 5, was bored by this. He asked, "why don't the squirrels just kill her already?"
Yes, why don't they?
Mr. Salt finally gets through the gate after patiently waiting for Wonka to open it, then plunges down the chute after Veruca. "She was a bad nut." Now cue another punishingly long Oompa-Boingo song, this one I think was the heavy metal inspired one, and the cast moves on to the next room where Mike TeeVee gets his.
But first we get to spend some time watching Willy Wonka flashback to the argument between his father (Christopher Lee) and him as a kid over his desire to be a chocolate maker. Dad Wonka, for what it's worth, is a dentist and wants Willy to follow in his footsteps. Willy leaves and pursues his dream, never to see his father again. Boo hoo, woe is him, blah blah, shut the fuck up already. His father problems have already manifested themselves several times in the film, usually when he has to talk to or about parents. And every single time it takes what little pathetic momentum the film has generated and slams it to a halt faster than you can say Crunchy Frog.
But first we have to take a ride on the Wonkavator, a glass elevator that goes upways and downways and sideways and slantways to any room in the factory at the touch of a button. Everyone piles in and we begin a short (though tedious) ride down into the bowels of the Wonka factory where, for no reason other than to waste more time on CGI, Charlie and some Oompa Loompas shoot fireworks out at, er… stuff.
Mike TeeVee is already tired of this sort of bullshit and says, "This is completely pointless! What does any of this have to do with Candy?"
Charlie replies, "Candy doesn't have to have a point."
Yeah Charlie? Well, movies do, so shut the fuck up. The whole goddamn film is pointless!
We finally get to the Wonkavision room and it's is almost exactly the same as in the 1971 film, Wonkavision, blah blah, millions of tiny pieces, yadda yadda, can you send something other than chocolate, woo hoo blah yadda, look dad I am the first person ever transported by television blah bloo blah. Put Mike in the taffy machine, exit Mr. TeeVee, enter yet another horrifically long Oingo-Loompa song.
Charlie is the last one left and Wonka doesn't even notice until Grampa Joe points it out. Hooray, Charlie wins the prize for surviving the tour, and just like the 1971 version it's the entire Wonka factory, the Oompa Loompas, the whole shebang.
Charlie and Willy and Grampa Joe get into the Wonkavator and fly off over the city. Beneath them all of the other characters are seen leaving the factory. Augustus is coated in fudge, Violet has no bones and flips around like a CGI monkey, Veruca is covered in trash as is her dad, and Mike TeeVee is ten feet tall and two dimensional.
Well, at least he got that critical second dimension off-screen.
The Wonkavator swoops over the city and Charlie points out his shack through the roof of which the cast crashes through.
Wonka explains that since he won the final big prize he will have to leave his family behind and join him to live out his life as a weird reclusive candy man who rules a million, billion CGI Deep Roys.
Charlie declines and Wonka is stunned that a kid wouldn't want to live in his fantastic fairyland of grisly death.
Wonka departs, baffled.
Back at the Bucket shack, things have turned for the better. Mr. Bucket now has a job at the toothpaste factory repairing the robot that replaced him, and Grampa Joe isn't bedridden anymore and everyone is happy.
Everyone except Wonka, who can no longer make candy that tastes even remotely good. Cut to Charlie doing shining someone's shoes on the street. The customer says that Willy Wonka is the probably the most loved person in the whole world. Charlie answers that he doesn't particularly care for him.
Surprise, the man getting his shoes shined is Wonka. How Charlie couldn't know this already is a mystery best left to the philosophers to answer. Anyway, Wonka asks why Charlie wouldn't come and live with him, and that, because he is so unhappy he can't make candy. He asks Charlie what he does when he is unhappy. Charlie answers that he hangs out with his cabbage soup eating family.
Wonka asks if Charlie thinks that patching things up with Wonka-dad would make him feel better. Charlie says yes and off they go to another house that looks like a model from the Beetlejuice set.
Dad Wonka opens the door and asks if they have an appointment. Charlie pushes Willy through the door and he sits in the dentist chair. Charlie notices as Dad Wonka begins his examination, that the walls and desk are covered with news clippings about Willy Wonka.
Awwww, Dad does care.
He recognizes Willy by his bicuspids, which is strange considering the bazillions of news stories, though admittedly, none seem to contain pictures of the candy maker.
Cue narrator who explains that with Willy's father/son relationship fixed, and Charlie's acceptance of a position in R and D at the factory gets everyone what they want, Charlie's family has more money, Willy has a family.
The last scene is the two of them returning from a long day at the factory and sitting down to dinner.
Finally it's over. Take channel lock pliers, begin removing teeth and shoving chocolate chips into the holes left in the gums.
I actually liked the last four or five minutes of this movie, which is saying something considering the amount of text I've spent hating it, but the closure of the Wonka needs a family and Charlie needs money storyline was actually pretty good. I liked that Wonka was more human at the end.
And of all the actors in this film the only one who manages to infuse his character with any sort of weirdness is Johnny Depp. His weirdness is well developed and his childlike innocence/stupidity/otherworldliness is well presented. His undercurrent of malice is buried though, and it's that bubbling madness that makes the Gene Wilder interpretation of the character so much fun. Still, Depp does okay.
The rest of the cast could have been played by Coolio, Britney Spears, and some CGI blobs created by Robert Rodriquez for the next Spy Kids film, and it would have been exactly the same. The non-acting is so godawful that even scenes were the scenery should be thoroughly chewed the cast just stands around looking stupid.
Charlie especially has as much personality as the fake snow lining the roof of the model shack in which he lives. At least in the 1971 version there seemed to be a general enthusiasm in Peter Ostrum's portrayal and a definite familial chemistry between him and Jack Albertson's Grampa Joe. But Charlie here is a one note and Grampa Joe even less so.
Selznick wrote in an infraction for Charlie that helped ground the character so that he was not so much better than the other kids on the tour, i.e. he stole Fizzy Lifting Drinks. What changes Charlie compared to the others is that he returns the one candy he would never need to replace, the Everlasting Gobstopper, and as Wonka intones –
"So shines a good deed in a weary world."
We don't get that here. Charlie is an innocent, pure, and simple. It's a black and white characterization when compared to the other Golden Ticket holders that makes him far less interesting to watch.
Another annoying bit about the film is the pacing, we go from Charlie's poverty problems to Factory tour very quickly, and one of the things that set the 1971 film apart was the way that Selznick portrayed the frenzy of Wonka buying that occurred as everyone tried so desperately to find a Golden Ticket. The scenes with Charlie in school, especially the painful one where he says he only opened two Wonka bars, the scene with the kidnapped husband, the Queen buying the last case of Wonka bars in the UK at auction, the computer that refuses to identify the location of the last Golden Ticket because "that would be cheating" are all gone, and these were fun story elements/jokes for parents and older kids. Hell, my son still quotes the "I'm now telling the computer EXACTLY what is can do with a lifetime supply of chocolate!" line.
But none of that is in Burton's film. You could say that he wanted to keep the story more intimate, but in doing so he sacrifices a whole lot of the depth that made the 1971 version so much fun.
And, a special quote for Mr. Burton, should be bother to read this –
Tim Burton: Wrong, sir! Wrong! Under section 37B of the contract signed by him, it states quite clearly that all offers shall become null and void if - and you can read it for yourself in this photo static copy - "I, the undersigned, shall forfeit all rights, privileges, and licenses herein and herein contained," et cetera, et cetera...”Fax mentis incendium gloria cultum," et cetera, et cetera...”Memo bis punitor delicatum!" It's all there, black and white, clear as crystal! You watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and you knew it wasn't a remake but a more faithful adaptation of Dahl's book. You've seen my other work, yet you still watched it, so you get nothing! You lose! Good day sir!
Big McLargehuge: You're a crook. You're a cheat and a swindler! That's what you are! How could you do a thing like this, build up a movie reviewer's hopes and then smash all his dreams to pieces? You're an inhuman monster!
Tim Burton: I said "Good day!"