Combustible Celluloid
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With: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Missi Pyle, James Fox, Deep Roy, Christopher Lee, Adam Godley, Franziska Troegner, Annasophia Robb, Julia Winter, Jordon Fry, Philip Wiegratz, Geoffrey Holder (narrator)
Written by: John August, based on the novel by Roald Dahl
Directed by: Tim Burton
MPAA Rating: PG for quirky situations, action and mild language
Running Time: 115
Date: 07/10/2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Trick or Sweet

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though both taste of delectable dark chocolate, Tim Burton's new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory rests in the shadow of its predecessor, the 1971 classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Burton and writer John August seem constantly, painfully aware of this fact, and so they remain as faithful as possible to the book, except in cases where the book closely resembles the original film. Despite this extraordinary care, it's nearly impossible to keep the two films apart and to avoid comparing and contrasting them.

To make matters more confusing, each film accomplishes certain sections better than the other. The new film avoids the classic's silly soda/burping scene, but it also includes a ridiculous ending in which Willy Wonka revisits and repairs his childhood traumas.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory comes from the 1964 novel by Roald Dahl (1916-90), who also wrote the screenplay for the 1971 film (as well as -- no kidding -- the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice). It concerns a mysterious, reclusive candy-making genius who invites five children and their guardians to tour his factory by means of golden tickets stashed away in candy bars. The least obnoxious child gets a "prize" at the end.

Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), who lives in near starvation with his parents, his Grandpa Joe (David Kelly) and his three other grandparents, gets the final ticket. His competitors are: gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), spoiled Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb) and television watching Mike Teavee (Jordon Fry).

Johnny Depp steps into Gene Wilder's fairly large shoes for the Willy Wonka role, a deliciously pleasurable part that requires a certain amount of sadism, psychosis and tender loving care. Both actors grand slam their performances, but Wilder added a bit more humanity to his portrayal, while Depp sails closer to the serrated edge of sanity.

Burton adds Depp's performance to their personal library of beloved freaks, which includes Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Ed Wood (1994). Indeed, Burton indulges his fantasies and fetishes as far as he can without turning this children's story into sleaze.

He forgoes touches like his "gothic blondes" in favor of casting Christopher Lee as Willy's father (a dentist, new to this movie) and setting one scene during Halloween. Burton's current muse Helena Bonham Carter also stars as Charlie's mother.

In that, Burton creates a fantastic, entertaining new universe. Ultimately, watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is like hearing a cover version of a favorite song. It's not quite the original, but a fresh perspective can increase your appreciation.

And dark chocolate tastes great any which way.

Actor Deep Roy, also in Burton's Planet of the Apes and Big Fish, plays every single one of the Oompa Loompas, with the aid of some very clever digital technology. David Kelly ably embodies the elderly Grandpa Joe, and Noah Taylor turns in one of his more appealing performances as Charlie's dad.

DVD Details: In addition to the single-disc edition, Warner Home Video has released a terrific two-disc set with jaw-dropping sound and picture. (I had to turn down my Bose speakers.) The first disc comes with only a trailer (no commentary track). Disc Two comes with a surprising number of goodies, much better than the recent two-disc Batman Begins set. There are four kid-friendly interactive games, including one in which you must choose the good nut and the bad nut, and one in which you mix different kinds of candy. It also includes a plethora of featurettes, including two very good ones, one on Deep Roy and one on Roald Dahl. (Dahl's gorgeous granddaughter is interviewed and reads passages from his work.)

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