WEB EXCLUSIVE: ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is summer’s biggest treat

Ben Breier

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Starring: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Missi Pyle, Noah Taylor, Deep Roy

Directed By: Tim Burton

Distributed By: Warner Bros.

Rated PG for quirky situations, action and mild language

Stater Rating: (out of four) ****

Let’s be blunt here — Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been one of the most hyped movies in recent memory. The thought of Tim Burton directing a movie in the Roald Dahl universe was a little bit concerning to me, and the trailers only increased my paranoia about the film. This was mostly because Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Willy Wonka seemed to channel a creepiness only matched by Michael Jackson.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s concept doesn’t really stray much from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Staying true to Dahl’s original work, the premise still involves five golden tickets that have been randomly distributed throughout Wonka Bars all over the world. Children who are fortunate enough to discover a golden ticket are invited to take a tour of Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

In a matter of days, the tickets are discovered by excessively gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Phillip Wiegratz), spoiled rich girl Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), gum-chewing champion Violet Beauregard (Annasophia Robb), technological aficionado Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry) and local ragamuffin Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore of Finding Neverland).

While the storyline remains mostly unchanged, the atmosphere and mood of Willy Wonka are completely different. True to Burton’s style, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is as dark and brooding as a film aimed at children can be, without being excessively creepy. Character and set design are absolutely top-notch — Augustus Gloop is a disgusting pig who exudes a plastic, doll-like quality as he wanders around Wonka’s factory and devours everything in sight and the forest of candy surrounding the chocolate waterfall is beautiful and brightly colored, while retaining Burton’s dark influence.

Some additions to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s storyline include various explanations of Willy Wonka’s past, which include interactions with his father and a glimpse into why Willy wanted to get involved with the candy-making business.

But if one were to select one specific highlight of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it would definitely be the Oompa-Loompas. Burton certainly could’ve gone several different ways with the little guys (all played by actor Deep Roy), but he managed to successfully update them while giving some additional backstory on the midget creatures that was not included in Willy Wonka, taken from the book.

The Oompa-Loompas are definitely much more hip the second time around, providing incredibly hilarious and witty lyrics on top of infectious music as child after child is eliminated from receiving Willy Wonka’s grand prize at the end of the tour. Where Oompa-Loompas grew more annoying and tiresome at the end of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, every appearance throughout the course of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was comical and appropriate.

As the children progress through the factory, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory manages to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, wondering what Burton’s expertly crafted universe will conjure up next. Each child is eliminated from receiving the final prize in a dramatic flourish of jaw-dropping visuals and over-the-top theatrics. It makes the audience wonder, “I know this going to happen, but how are they going to show it?”

Freddie Highmore’s portrayal of Charlie Bucket is incredible, nailing the poverty-stricken, soft-spoken outcast to perfection. The on-screen chemistry between Wonka and Charlie is amazing, which can be attributed to the fact that Depp and Highmore appeared on-screen together in 2004’s Finding Neverland.

Previous experience aside, Highmore’s feelings of admiration and wonder slowly degrading into disappointment are emotionally charged, and absolutely brilliant to observe. If Highmore isn’t recognized for his top-notch performance, it’ll be an absolute travesty.

There are a few ways in which Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fails to live up to the original, most of which are things that only the nit-picking fanatics will miss. There’s a lack of lickable wallpaper, the scene where Charlie gets into trouble with Wonka’s Fizzy Lifting Drink is omitted and the boat ride through the factory definitely lacks some of the fright factor that the original provided in spades.

Aside from some very small flaws, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is easily this summer’s best film. Fantastic nostalgic sensations combined with atmospheric brilliance, hilariously charming dialogue, and astounding performances make Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a movie that everybody should be required to see at least once.

Highly recommended.

Contact general assignment reporter Ben Breier at [email protected].