Sometimes funny, sometimes flat, Tim Burton's take on "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is notably darker than the Gene Wilder originally, but, while imaginative at times, it never is fully entertaining.
Many scoffed at the idea of remaking the classic that so many of us have grown up with, that of Gene Wilder as the strange but loveable Willy Wonka , little green Oompa Loompas and lots and lots of candy. Then again, this new version was being directed by Tim Burton, which let us hold onto a glimmer of hope that he might actually succeed in surpassing the original. Sadly, that is not the case.
No need to go into the plot, but "Charlie," while very similar in story, is much different in look and feel, as we definitely get a better sense that Willy Wonka has planned the demise of several of the children ahead of time. Played superbly by Johnny Depp, Wonka is strange, awkward and not always very pleasant, as he is rude and at times sadistic. It's hard to compare Wilder and Depp as they play such different characters, but Depp is an ace at playing oddballs. Unfortunately, the sadistic innocence of his character and his creepy, artificial look, not to mention the fact that the movie is set inside a gigantic play land, had me thinking the entire time that I was watching some satire of Michael Jackson.
Freddie Highmore, who last played against Depp in "Finding Neverland," is Charlie, and he does a delightful job as the "lead" character. The only problem is that once he and his grandpa (David Kelly) step foot inside the chocolate factory, the movie switches gears and focuses on the other children and Wonka, all but completely ignoring the title character. We see little of them until the end, and by that point we really don't care what happens to them. The movie never gives us a chance to get to know him.
As for the visuals, Tim Burton has a flare for the creative, but I must admit he did not blow me away in any shape or form. Yes, thanks to a larger budgt and special effects the movie is able to take the Gene Wilder version to the next level, and yes, there are some very imaginative things done along the way, but "Charlie" isn't that different from the original to where anything really surprised me. Furthermore, the computer graphics are downright bad, and while the cheesy fakeness of it all seems to have been intentional, cleaner effects could have made the movie much more wondrous and goofy. This is easily one of Burton's least inspiring movies, and he knows it.
The biggest problem with "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is that it is just plain boring. Depp is funny as Wonka and the movie is sprinkled with very funny gimmicks and jokes, but much of the story is flat. Perhaps the reason is that I've seen the original so many times, or maybe Burton was relying on the fact that people would come see the film no matter what so he felt he didn't have to bother. Parts of the movie are especially slow and a good fifteen minutes could have been cut out to increase pacing. "Charlie" is never bad, but it is rarely great, either. The Wonka flashbacks especially do the trick in destroying any pacing the story had.
"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" has some funny jokes and is ultimately mildly entertaining, but its delivery isn't dynamic enough to warrant a remake of the classic original.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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