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Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
(Full Screen Special Edition) (1971)

The Roald Dahl Treasury
448 pages by Roald Dahl and illustrator Lane Smith

. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"

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 punishment.

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 plant.

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 slavemaster.

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.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka
Still leading his confectionary tour

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