Have you got your golden ticket?
CHILDREN ARE often a source of wisdom in Hollywood films, so it’s pleasing to see these brats, I mean adorable little kiddie-winks, get their comeuppance in Burton’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
We will all take delight in the punishment of these naughty children. Veruca, Augustus, Violet and Mike are sassy, mean, conniving and disobedient. Each have been raised to be menaces to society – gluttonous, self-absorbed and media-mad and, with all of this on display, it helps make our pure hero Charlie (Highmore) even more appealing.
We meet the Bucket family. They’re poor, live in a tilted, collapsing shack with a gaping hole in the roof and only eat watered-down cabbage soup; yet they can afford TV, upon which they watch the broadcasts of Wonka’s exploits. Destitute, freezing and starving, they hover miles beneath the poverty line, however, Charlie doesn’t show a single behavioural glitch, apart from being obsessed with Wonka’s chocolate factory. When it’s announced that five children will be allowed into the factory, Charlie really wants to win, but what are the chances of him finding one of the five golden tickets when he only gets one chocolate bar a year?
The film is sort of a remake and sort of isn’t. There’s no way it could exist and look as it does without the influence of the 1971 original, yet this version does cleave closer to Dahl’s original narrative. Let’s just call it an evolution and leave it at that.
It brings us back to the bizarre heart of the book, especially when it comes to the ‘oompa-loompas’, who are returned to the caricature pygmies Dahl originally envisioned. The most important detour from the book is the insertion of Wonka’s father, Dr. Wilbur Wonka (Lee), a very stern dentist with a terribly imposing and uncompromising disposition, who illustrates his oppressive loathing of candy and sweets in no uncertain terms.
Johnny Depp steals the show as the oddball chocolatier, Willy Wonka. There’s a touch of Wacko Jacko about his childlike demeanour, even down to the nervous giggle and pale face, yet he manages to be creepy, sympathetic and hilarious all at once. His gradually decreasing deathlike pallor and latex gloves are the ideal mark of an antisocial germophobe, who has a penchant for collecting tiny, exotic, underprivileged people. Depp has made Wonka into the creepiest, wackiest, most sadistic tour guide in the history of the world. He creates a character beyond anything you have seen before, and can now boast that he’s played a creepier character than Edward Scissorhands.
He expresses his satisfaction at the children’s pain in the factory, a veritable venus brat trap. However, the structure of ticking off one child after another gives the film a linear, pedestrian pace, which isn’t helped with each punishment being followed by a musical number from the oompa-loompas.
Burton has created a psychedelic, offbeat, dark comedy combined with a heartfelt tale about one little boy who continues to hope and dream, and another who has become cynical and slightly mad dealing with childhood tragedy and lifelong betrayal. He makes us realise that this seductive but slightly off-kilter wonderland, rippled with chocolate rivers and marshmallow growing trees, harbours something a lot more sinister.
If you think you know how it will end because you saw the first one, you’ll be surprised as Burton presents a new ending, more appropriate for this movie. Full of vibrant colours and dreamlike sets, the film has quirky situations as well as an evil streak, which may cause kids to have nightmares, but you get the feeling that’s the way Dahl would have liked it.