Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 6, 2011)
During a documentary found alongside The Wizard of Oz, filmmaker John Waters denounces the concept that someone would ever remake that classic. He indicates that he feels only bad films should be remade.
To a great degree, I think he’s correct. What’s the point of redoing a movie that succeeded in the first place? It seems like an endeavor with little chance at great success, as there’s little direction to go but down.
Despite those pitfalls, I felt that the 2005 version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had a real shot at bucking the odds. 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory became a classic over the years, but it certainly wasn’t a flawless piece of work. With occasionally terrific director Tim Burton at the reins of the remake, I thought that Charlie might equal or surpass the charm and delight of the original.
I was wrong. Instead, Burton unleashed all of his worst tendencies and few of his best for this leaden clunker. Note that some spoilers may pop up in my discussion, so beware!
As one might expect, both Charlie and Wonka enjoy similar stories, though a few differences occur along the way. The film follows young Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) and his rather financially depressed family. Charlie lives with his parents (Noah Taylor and Helena Bonham Carter) and both pairs of bed-ridden grandparents. Nonetheless, they give him lots of emotional support, especially from his Grandpa Joe (David Kelly).
During the film’s first half, we watch the panic created when reclusive candy maker Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) decides to open his fantastic factory to five lucky families. In a masterful marketing move, the only way to win a slot is to find a “golden ticket” inside a Wonka Bar. This causes a worldwide frenzy, and we gradually meet all of the children who obtain the tickets. These include boob-tube-obsessed Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry), crass, gum-smacking Violet Beauregarde (AnnaSophia Robb), spoiled brat Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), and tubby glutton Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz). Unassuming little Charlie ends up as the final component of the group.
The second half of Wonka takes each kid and one family member within the confines of the magical building. While they witness some spectacular sights, all is not perfect, as the factory forms a kind of morality mall. One by one, the different kids fall victim to their vices, all except for pure-hearted and kind Charlie.
That synopsis comes straight from my Wonka review, but as I noted, some changes occur. Too bad none of these help the film. The biggest alteration stems from Wonka’s backstory. In the first flick, we get almost no information about Wonka’s prior life. We learn a few reasons why he closed the factory, but that’s about it.
In Charlie, the movie pours on notions about Wonka’s life and how he turned out the way he did. We meet Wonka’s father (Christopher Lee) and get an idea why the candyman turned out the way he did. Those notions sound intriguing but act to mar the story in many ways.
For one, they eliminate much of the character’s mystery. One of the beautiful elements of Wonka stemmed from Wonka’s elusiveness. The film made the character open to interpretation and difficult to read. Not so with Charlie’s Wonka. He’s more weird than mysterious.
Charlie also misfires since it lets us see Wonka before the characters enter the factory. In the prior flick, we don’t see him until Charlie and the others do. The remake allows us a few earlier glimpses of Wonka earlier, and those eliminate much of his enigmatic status. It’s more fun to know nothing but myth about him before we formally meet him.
Depp’s odd turn as Wonka doesn’t help. I think he’s a terrifically talented actor and hoped he’d bring something interesting to the role. Unfortunately, Depp just plays Wonka as a creepy geek. Gene Wilder defined the role in Wonka, as he made Willy an enigmatic trickster. Depp’s Wonka is little more than a weirdo with some daddy issues. Depp’s take on the part makes Wonka off-putting in a bad way; this isn’t a guy with whom you’d want to leave your kids, and he seems like such a simpleton that it’s tough to buy him as a successful businessman.
The rest of the actors are much better in their characters, though they don’t get much of a chance to do anything with their roles. Highmore’s Charlie is vastly more natural and real than inept young Peter Ostrum was in the first film, but the character doesn’t work any better. Actually, due to some changes, Charlie’s even less interesting.
In the first flick, Charlie makes a much more conscious decision to be the good kid. He gets tempted to spy on Wonka, an endeavor that will help provide for his financially strapped family. He declines to do this and thus earns Wonka’s affection as well as a big reward. He shows facets of a real personality despite Ostrum’s attempts to make the character as bland as possible.
That doesn’t happen in Charlie. While Highmore delivers personality in the role, Charlie wins in the end simply because he’s unobjectionable. He does nothing to merit a reward; he just isn’t a jerk like the other kids. We never see Charlie think about the temptations and resist them. Instead, he simply acts like a goody-goody nothing and succeeds due to attrition. I like the original much better since it places actual obstacles in Charlie’s way.
I know what some folks are thinking: “But Wonka wasn’t true to the book!” And to that I respond “so what?” Newsflash: print and film are two totally different media. Here’s another shocker: authors aren’t infallible. Sometimes outside parties can execute changes that improve the original product.
I felt that’s what happened with Wonka. Alterations occurred that made the characters more believable and added to the tale. Perhaps Charlie is a more accurate representation of the novel, but it’s not a more satisfying one.
Some may argue that it’s unfair to slam Charlie just because it doesn’t live up to Wonka. They might be right, but I find it virtually impossible not to do so. As I mentioned earlier, when you remake a successful movie, you set out along a difficult path. You’d better make something exceptional or else you’ll always be compared unfavorably with the prior effort.
If I could view Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on its own merits without thoughts about Wonka, would I like it more? Perhaps, but it remains a flawed movie. Burton has often been criticized as a director who cares much more about visuals than storytelling, and that tendency comes to the forefront in Charlie. The flick always looks great, as it presents creative settings and uses them well.
Unfortunately, the characters get lost along the way. The supporting kids were a highlight of Wonka. While the young actors in Charlie are perfectly fine in their roles, the weight of the visuals overwhelms them and their efforts vanish into the mist. Burton is so delighted with his visual whimsy that he forgets about everything else,
I wouldn’t call Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a total loss. It has its moments of entertainment, and I must admit I liked it more on second viewing, probably because I expected so much less from it. It remains a major disappointment, though, as it doesn’t come close to equaling its predecessor.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Very few issues materialized in this appealing transfer.
No real issues with sharpness materialized. A few shots seemed a smidgen soft, but those were insubstantial. Instead, the majority of the flick looked crisp and detailed. I saw no jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes were absent. The movie also failed to displayed any print flaws; it always remained clean.
Once we got past the dank, dismal world of Charlie’s family and headed into Wonka’s factory, the film provided a wild, vivid palette. The disc replicated those tones with wonderful definition and life. All the different hues popped off the screen and looked terrific. Blacks were dense and tight, while low-light shots demonstrated good clarity and smoothness. Overall, this ended up as a fine image.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory provided a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack that was quite good. With all the movie’s nutty situations, it featured more than a few opportunities for a wide soundfield, and it took advantage of them. The music offered nice involvement and imaging, while effects broadened across the spectrum well. Elements were placed accurately and blended smoothly. The surrounds added a good sense of place as well as plenty of unique components to create a fine soundscape. This was an active, involving piece.
Across the board, the mix offered good quality too. Speech seemed natural and concise, and I noticed no signs of edginess or issues with intelligibility. Music was bright and vibrant, while effects came across as lively and accurate. The package included nice bass response to create a warm sound. Overall, I liked this soundtrack and thought it worked well for the movie.
How did the picture and sound of this Blu-Ray compare with those of the original DVD from 2005? The Blu-ray’s audio was a bit more vibrant and engaging, while the visuals showed superior definition and vivacity. I thought the DVD looked nice, but the Blu-ray was a decidedly stronger presentation.
The Blu-ray includes most of the DVD’s extras – and adds some new materials. I’ll mark Blu-ray exclusives with special blue print.
We open with an audio commentary from director Tim Burton. He offers a running, screen-specific look at what drew him to the project, the source novel and its adaptation, additional story and character topics, cast and performances, music and effects, sets and production design, costumes and choreography, and a few more notes.
The only negative here comes from dead air, as we get more than a few short gaps. That issue aside, Burton delivers a good chat. He’s always been inconsistent as a commentator, so this comes as no surprise. Nonetheless, Burton fills his active moments with a lot of interesting info about the film, so this track is well worth a listen.
For an additional auditory component, we find a music-only track. This delivers Danny Elfman’s score in all its Dolby TrueHD 5.1 glory. While I don’t care to listen to isolated scores, I know many others like them, so I appreciate the inclusion of Elfman’s work here.
Another new component, we get an In-Movie Experience. This mixes text trivia facts, shots from the set, storyboards, and interviews. We hear from Burton, Elfman, head animal trainer Michael Alexander, and actors Jordan Fry, Julia Winter, James Fox, AnnaSophia Robb, Missi Pyle, Johnny Depp, Adam Gooley and Freddie Highmore. We learn about sets and music, cast, characters and performances, and a few other areas.
Often, these picture-in-picture features offer a lot of good material and insights. Unfortunately, this one is a dud. Virtually all of the movie-related information appears elsewhere, so the only unique elements revolve around the text blurbs. Those deliver zany notes most of the time; they’re cute but not especially valuable. In addition, long patches of the film pass without any components. You can safely skip the “In-Movie Experience” and not miss anything.
From there we focus on a whole bunch of featurettes. These start with the six-minute and 57-second Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Chocolate Dreams. It features notes from Burton, executive producer Felicity Dahl, producers Brad Grey and Richard D. Zanuck, screenwriter John August, and actors Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. The program looks at Burton’s adaptation of the story and various character, plot and tone concerns. We find a few decent details about these areas, but this piece feels a little too promotional and generic for my liking; don’t expect much depth from it.
Next comes the 10-minute and 39-second Different Faces, Different Flavors. In it, we find remarks from Roy, Felicity Dahl, Grey, Depp, Zanuck, Burton, Winter, Carter, actors AnnaSophia Robb, David Kelly, Christopher Lee, Adam Godley, Liz Smith, Noah Taylor, Eileen Essell, David Morris, Philip Wiegratz, Jordan Fry, Missi Pyle, James Fox, and Freddie Highmore. “Faces” covers casting and the work done by the actors. Occasional insights pop up here, particularly in regard to Depp’s interpretation of Wonka. Unfortunately, much of the show just praises the performers.
After this we find Designer Chocolate. It goes for nine minutes, 36 seconds and offers notes from Burton, Zanuck, Grey, Dahl, Smith, Depp, Robb, Carter, Fry, Winter, Highmore, production designer Alex McDowell, model unit supervisor Jose Granell, supervising art director Leslie Tomkins, director of photography Philippe Rousselot, set decorator Peter Young, costume supervisor Lindsay Pugh, and costume designer Gabriella Pescucci. “Designer” looks at the movie’s visuals, with an emphasis on its sets. We also get notes about costumes and other visual elements, but the show digs into the sets most firmly. As with some of the prior programs, it zips by too quickly and lacks the detail I’d like given the complexity of the subject. Still, it hits on the highlights and offers an entertaining view of the subject.
Next we get Under the Wrapper. This six-minute and 58-second piece presents statements from Burton, Davis, Tomkins, McDowell, Depp, Scanlan, Robb, Penny, special effects supervisor Joss Williams, and visual effects supervisor Chas Jarrett. As you can guess from that list of participants, this one covers various effects issues. We learn about practical and visual elements used in the film. I continue with the same complaints: this show gives us a decent taste of information but needs to be longer and more detailed. It’s fine for what it is, however.
When we go to the seven-minute and 17-second Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Sweet Sounds, we discover information from Burton, composer Danny Elfman, actor Deep Roy, and choreographer Francesca Jaynes. This one focuses on the movie’s Oompa-Loompa songs and offers one of the disc’s better programs. Elfman eloquently discusses all of his challenges and gives us a nice look at his song-writing processes.
For more filmmaking magic, we head to Becoming Oompa-Loompa. The seven-minute and 16-second featurette presents comments from Burton, Winter, Davis, Scanlan, lip-synch and vocal coach Jane Karen, Elfman, Jaynes, visual effects producer Nikki Penny, and Deep Roy. As the title implies, the program shows all the work put into making Roy show up as skillions of different characters. I like the material presented here but think it’s too brief given all the complications involved. This was an ambitious process that deserved more documentation.
From there we shift to the nine-minute and 49-second Attack of the Squirrels. We hear from Burton, head animal trainer Michael Alexander, supervising prop modeller Oliver Hodge, visual effects supervisor Nick Davis, animatronics and prosthetics creative supervisor Neal Scanlan, and actor Julia Winter. They chat about the challenges involved with training squirrels and how they accomplished those scenes. This includes both real and artificial animals. We see how they were taught to deal with the nuts and issues related to the attack on Veruca. The featurette maintains a light tone but digs into the subjects well. It turns into a fun and informative piece.
Finally, Fantastic Mr. Dahl runs 17 minutes and 42 seconds. It includes remarks from neighbors Valerie Eaton-Griffith and Amanda Conquy, friend Brough Girling, literary agent Murray Pollinger, granddaughter Sophie Dahl, widow Felicity Dahl, illustrator Quentin Blake, publishers Liz Attenborough and Stephen Roxburgh, grandson Luke Kelly, daughters Ophelia and Tessa Dahl, doctor Sir David Wetherall, and son Theo Dahl. We also get archival notes from Roald Dahl himself. We get good notes about Dahl’s life and his work, but much of the program also focuses on others’ impressions of him. We hear about how he interacted with his kids, grandkids and others along with details about some elements of Dahl’s writings. We get some insights into Dahl’s experiences with chocolate and how those influenced his material. The show ends up as somewhat disjointed, for it doesn’t follow a logical path. Nonetheless, it includes solid information and acts as a candid look at the author.
Two pre-viz sequences appear. We get one for “Mike Teavee Dance” (1:32) and another for “Augustus Gloop Dance” (2:06). “Teavee”mixes crude CG and footage of Deep Roy, while “Gloop” focuses entirely on rough computer animation. Both are fun to see.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we find a Club Reel. This two-minute, 54-second clip offers a music video of sorts, as we mostly see the Oompas dance to a beat-heavy tune. It’s a snoozer.
Long on visual razzle-dazzle but short in most other areas, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory offers a flawed adaptation of a classic work. The movie has its moments but doesn’t compare favorably with its cinematic predecessor. The Blu-ray presents very positive picture and audio along with a nice collection of supplements. The movie is an erratic fantasy, but at least the Blu-ray presents it in fine fashion.
To rate this film visit the original review of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY