Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: John August
Starring: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter
Kids cannot control the wealth and job opportunities of their parents along with several other factors of their upbringing. However, they can dictate their personality and how they treat others. This idea becomes foundational when five children get the opportunity to enter the sacred factory of the mysterious Willy Wonka.
After years of being closed off to the public, Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) has decided to open up his factory to five children who receive a golden ticket found packaged with his famous candy bars. The children lucky enough to find the ticket are Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), Violet Beauregarde (AnnaSophia Robb), Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), and Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry). Each of them with their own distinct personalities, one will in the end get to run the famous chocolate factory with Wonka.
The key to any iteration of this Roald Dahl story comes from who portrays the eccentric Wonka. The children have their quirks but Wonka holds the film together, and unfortunately, Johnny Depp just doesn’t cut it as the chocolatier. It may be unfair to compare his performance to that of Gene Wilder, but this portrayal of the character produces someone unable to properly deliver the merits mentioned in the story. Not only does his look make him appear to be a ghost but the bits of comedy they attempted to utilize comes off so dry and lacking anything remotely interesting. Sure, we receive his backstory, but he still feels hollow as a character.
Everything happening before Charlie and his grandfather go to the factory works beautifully well. The performance of Freddie Highmore beautifully captures the innocence of young Charlie. The purity of this character comes out where he believes to have failed in his pursuits for the golden ticket and still shares his yearly chocolate ration for his birthday. The connection built between the family in their rundown house elicits such warmth and beauty despite the cold world they live in. It’s not until we reach the factory that this film begins to show its cracks and ultimately falls apart.
The chocolate factory these characters enter should be something of wonder, but instead, it looks wholly artificial and the effects make it look shabby. It was disheartening to see because of what it looked like in the previous iteration of this story in 1971. They aimed for extravagance but tried too hard, which resulted in it looking worse than it should have. The biggest shame comes in the form of the Oompa Loompas, where they get a decent backstory explaining the purpose of being within the factory, but all of those scenes lack magic. They use the face of Deep Roy for each one of them, which takes away any sort of uniqueness to them. The decision to do this makes no sense to me because these creatures brought an element of mystery but the ones in this film just look ridiculous as they all sport the same face.
With the advancement of technology, this film had the capability of demonstrating the punishments for these children in a more proficient manner. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory manages to pull it off, where we see Violet balloon up and Mike Teavee shrinks within the television. Those effects work well to demonstrate the vices of these children and how their spoiled upbringing has made them rotten. The least we could expect from this iteration more modern adaptation.
Watching this iteration of this story opened up a bundle of questions for me regarding the logic of how Wonka knew about who would receive the tickets, but the magic net can capture all criticisms. Much of this world relies on the magical circumstances of landing Charlie in this position to last longer than more well-off children. The story ultimately becomes about being a good kid, which makes it odd why they cut out a fairly substantial scene from this film. A scene meant to elicit joy and wonder gets cut out for us to learn more about this humorless Wonka and his past.
Lacking life within the factory but full of bountiful love outside of it, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory feels like an unnecessary retelling of this beloved story. The themes remain the same but the aesthetic employed by Tim Burton and the portrayal of Wonka by Johnny Depp leaves much to be desired. They attempted to take this source material in a different direction, but it only proves the existence of this feature to be unnecessary when the 1971 version did pretty much everything else much better.