director: Tim Burton
starring: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Deep Roy
running time: 107 mins
Tim Burton is the perfect man to helm a new version of one of Roald Dahl’s best loved novels and while this offbeat film will certainly not stick to people’s expectations, Depp’s remarkably original portrayal of Wonka will startle and captivate in equal measures. The fourth outing for the pair is as delirious an adventure as ever, though it will irritate some as much as amuses others.
Legendary chocolatier Willy Wonka [Johnny Depp] is now a recluse but has announced that he will allow five children the opportunity to tour his gigantic factory. To win they must find one of five golden tickets that have been hidden inside his chocolate bars. Charlie Bucket [Freddie Highmore] is desperate to find a golden ticket and discover the secrets that lie behind the factory gates…
Burton’s restrained opening reel introduces us to the simple Bucket family and the director masterfully elicits audible gasps of disappointment and delight from viewers and Charlie fails to and eventually finds the much sought after final golden ticket. The director’s zany colourful style fills the screen once we enter the factory with all the subtlety of a Las Vegas stageshow. A boat sequence screams of theme park ride tie-in, while we sample Wonka’s nonsensical sugary delights.
With his plum velvet jacket and purple surgical gloves, we are shown an eccentric, quirky, and slightly unfriendly Wonka as Depp delves far deeper into the character’s psyche than Gene Wilder’s incarnation. “I don’t care,” Wonka responds flatly as one of the brattish kids attempts to introduce herself. Burton and Depp let us see what makes him tick so we can understand what turns someone into such a reclusive genius, utilising several new additions to the story in the form of flashbacks to his childhood and relationship with his father (apparently a recurring theme with Burton after Big Fish). Depp probably suggested Highmore for Charlie, having worked alongside the talanted young actor in Finding Neverland. His Charlie is simple but pleasant and open; he is the audience’s mesmerised wide eyes inside the factory.
I like Danny Elfman but he does rather run riot over the soundtrack with a series of outlandish Oompa Loompa songs that frankly seem disjointed and out of place. However the brash songs, when choreographed with a brilliantly deadpan Deep Roy playing every one of the little folk, do grow on you.
Watching from the vantage of a hovering glass elevator as the unfortunate children leave the factory after being taught their sticky lessons is a magical moment of Dahl whimsy. Like Dahl, Burton stresses that these are awful kids but blames their parents with a stern warning for his adult audience. And this is the film’s successful dichotomy: the focus on Wonka’s character is an intriguing approach for older viewers while retaining enough of the inimitable Dahl magic to delight the core audience of children.