|Starring:||Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, James Fox, and Christopher Lee|
Raold Dahl has always been a bit of a misanthrope. His books for children are always gory and icky, the characters cartoonish to the extreme. That’s part of why they’ve stood the test of time, I guess. They’ve made films of most of his books, and some of them, like this, has been made more than once.
The films is extremely simple in plot: Our eponymous hero, one Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), who lives in a wreck of a house on some very expensive urban real estate with his parents (Helena Bonham Carter and Noah Taylor) and grandparents, wins a tour of a chocolate factory. He goes on it with some other kids and their parents, The end.
It reminds me of watching the Formula 3 racing championships in Monte Carlo a few months back, Lots of people went to see, not the cars go racing around the track, but for some of the cars to spin out of control and hit the wall.
The point of this exercise is to watch a group of people we don’t like get almost drowned in molten chocolate, thrown down giant garbage chutes, turned into giant blueberries and the like. The Germans have a term for that sort of thing: “Schandenfreude.”
The master of Schadenfreude is none other than the notorious Willy Wonka(Johnny Depp), who had fired his entire staff many years before and hasn’t been seen since, although his candy bars keep coming out, a very mysterious place indeed. It is he and his legion of Oompas Loompas(Deep Roy, multiplied by computer), who wreak holy havoc on the four evil children(Julia Winter, Philip Wiegratz, Annasophia Robb and Jordan Fry) who win the other four golden tickets and their parents(Franziska Troegner, James Fox, Missi Pyle and Adam Godley) and Charlie’s spare grandfather(David Kelly) look on in horror and innumerable Deep Roys go into a musical number celebrating each brat’s demise.
Indeed, this is a horror movie. Fairy tales are usually about horrible things happening to people who aren’t all that nice, and this bunch are all arrogant jerks….except Charlie, who’s good and wonderful in every way.
The acting is great. This is Johnny Depp’s greatest triumph as yet. He plays Willie Wonka as sort of a Michael Jackson, except that he’s deliberately phony, speaking in a singsong voice generally used by kindergarten teachers. He’s entirely opaque, and here’s where Tim Burton and writer John August stumble. They insert flashbacks in which a young Willie rebels against his candy-phobic dentist father(Christopher Lee). We don’t need that. It’s not WEIRD enough. It wasn’t in the book and there was a good reason for that.
Dahl wrote a sequel, and there’s really no room for it at the end of the film. The 1971 version, which is inferior in all sorts of ways left off on the right note.
But this is something you’ve got to see while waiting for Harry Potter VI to arrive at the bookstore.