Roald Dahl's fabulous tale for children about the wondrous chocolate factory
owned and operated by Willy Wonka is a metaphorical morality tale about
society's penchant for excess. Tim Burton's movie drawn from that source
material is, in itself, a study in excess, conceptual and technical.
It's a colorful tale of of wanting things in great quantity and for the wrong
reasons, and Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) is the master of the message.
Wonka is the survivor of a dentist-father's notion of diet discipline to
ensure long living bicuspids. His heartless denials of a young boy's
attraction to high energy protein like chocolate -- even those earned trick
or treating on Halloween -- results in his son's flight from such heartless
Grown up, young Wonka's first venture as a chocolatier producing the Willy
Wonka Bar is so remunerative that he builds the biggest chocolate factory
known to man, woman and child. But the demand for his product attract
industrial spies who plant themselves among Wonka's workers. This is too
much for him to bear. He discharges his entire work force and closes the
After many years of silence, a whiff of smoke appears from the factory's
stacks and does the announcement that the Willy Wonka Bar is to be available
again. This time, with 5 invitations to visit the factory enclosed within
the packages that are distributed worldwide. Almost every kid who finds
one does so through advantageous means. They include a fat German boy whose
chain diet of the bars destines him to find his invitation; a British brat
whose aristocrat dad (James Fox) indulges her every whim, including turning
his factory into a chocolate bar strip search production line by buying up
all the bars available; an American girl who holds the gum chewing record and
comes with her own brand of brattiness; a Video game tough boy with a big
mouth and no respect; and... Charlie.
Charlie Bucket finds his the old fashioned way... through sheer luck. This
modest little fellow with an inpregnable ethic lives in a ramshackle house
within sight of the idled Wonka factory with his family, Mom (Helena Bonham
Carter) and Pop (Noah Taylor) and two sets of grannies and gramps (David
Kelly as Grandpa Joe). The house is warped and grotesque, as are the
inhabitants. But, they are Charlie's family and he puts them before any
other consideration, however tempting.
When the kids and one guardian apiece finally go on Wonka's tour, the
atmosphere is wondrously colorful and full of confectionary treats and traps
for the unwary kid lured into them. Wonka's game is that the last kid to
remain on tour is the winner of something almost unbelievable.
Depp's Wonka is slightly unbelievable, as well. His hair is perfectly
bobbed, his skin the color and texture of fine powder, his flawless teeth
bright enough to light a candy store, his garments, are out of an 18th
century operetta. His voice, as falsetto as his demeanor, is at times
instructive, at times petulant. But, however challenged by the kid's
questions and video boy's accusations, he remains confident that he has
everything under control.
Most especially under control is his team of tireless Oompa-Loompa workers
that Wonka recruited from a jungle hinterland. The are immutably loyal, all
look the same (Deep Roy x 100), capable of song and dance routines (The
"Loompatics"?) on the ramparts of the sugar pots as well as in the oar galley
of the chocolate ship, and just about everywhere. They revere Wonka like the
employment god he is to them, disregarding his more disturbing aspect of
Depp's role seems to please his taste for exaggeration, but may be offputting
to a current generation of sophisticated fairy tale watchers. As the ultra
good and perfect Charlie, Freddie Highmore lives up to the natural gifts he
showed in "Finding Neverland," this time with a bigger slice of screen time.
The biggest submergence of talent into this tub of sweets, however, is the
transformation of the Helena Bonham Carter presence into pure and
oversimplified caricature. But, that is what this extraordinary actress gets
for submitting to the Burton aesthetic.
Danny Elfman gets a chance to compose big dance numbers and key songs for his
soundtrack album, none of which rise outside the boundaries of the chocolate
factory, though it's fun within that context and all good kids should savor
its catchy flavors, most of all with the "Loompa Land" track.
For me, there's something here, though I hesitate to say just what and how
tasty. One thing I can say is that I enjoyed a better level of comprehension
of this than I did of an earlier Burton fantasy fluff, "Edward Scissorhand."
Unfortunately, the charm of the conceipts, visual ingenuity and thematic
audacities so thrilling at first, turns into a whipped cream that doesn't get
better with too much churning. Ultimately, the fantasy and its style becomes
an airy overindulgence.
~~ Jules Brenner