STUDIO: Warner Bros.
MSRP: $30.97
RUNNING TIME: 115 min.
Interactive games

Aside from updating archaic special effects with state-of-the-art sizzle, there’s always the question of what else a filmmaker can add to a remake that didn’t exist the first time around. If you’re Tim Burton, you bring… father issues.

The Flick

For those who haven’t read Roald Dahl’s classic book or have somehow never seen its previous adaptation with Gene Wilder as the eccentric confection king (I’m purposely going to avoid comparisons to the original film in this review), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory follows young Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), a happily impoverished kid who lives in a little lopsided shack with his mum and dad and both sets of grandparents. The entire town exists in the looming shadow of ingenious candy maker Willy Wonka’s colossal factory, long since closed to the public when a frustrated Wonka (Johnny Depp) couldn’t prevent the theft of his recipes by a few dastardly employees. The whole world still enjoys a steady supply of Wonka’s treat assortment, but how they’re manufactured remains unknown.

Then one day, apropos of nothing, comes an announcement that Wonka will permit five children to explore his factory, with one receiving a mysterious grand prize. Winners are allowed entry only by finding the golden tickets hidden randomly in bars of chocolate, creating a global candy frenzy. A despondent Charlie eventually happens upon the final ticket and invites his Grandpa Joe (David Kelly, whose exaggerated avian features would seem more suited for ordering the obliteration of rebel planets), a former Wonka employee, to join him. Along with the other lucky children and their guardians, Charlie meets his erratic, childlike host and gets a full tour of the wondrous factory, during which each of the other grotesquely loathsome kids pays the price of their indulgence, leaving Charlie the de facto recipient of the final reward.

With Johnny Cab in bankrupcty, Jack Polymer had to take whatever was available.

There’s no denying the visual appeal of Burton’s remake — decorated in sugar-coated gothic, the film is crammed with flamboyant scenery and dazzlingly elaborate setpieces, like an exhilarating boat ride down a chocolate stream and a visit to a nut-sorting room manned (as it were) by trained squirrels. And yet the set design maintains a familiar Burton aesthetic, simultaneously vibrant and dark – for example, the central chamber’s edible environment is a rainbow of garish colors while the outermost walls remain foreboding gray bricks, and Wonka’s complex inventing machinery is covered with flashing lights but sits in an immense room of inky blackness.

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Burton’s recurring collaborator Depp has also taken a slightly bewildering approach to the awkwardly gracious host (and his newly, and questionably, expanded background). He’s an anachronism from the 60s, throwing around phrases like “beatnik” and “keep on truckin’” and “Slide me some skin, soul brother,” verbal relics of his youth or perhaps a result of his voluntary isolation. Pasty and pinched, this Wonka is an effete, socially stunted touch-freak, an uncomfortable bundle of neuroses — a risky depiction that’s surreal and somehow continually intriguing. Although, it’s difficult to envision such a reclusive oddball venturing to a remote jungle and befriending a tribe of diminutive cocoa-bean worshipers called Oompa-Loompas.

Speaking of which, Burton is obviously a much bigger fan of Deep Roy than I am. Roy is the miniature man assigned the enormous task of playing every single one of the strange Oompa-Loompas, Wonka’s army of tiny workers/slaves within the factory. While the coordination and computerized replication of Roy’s likeness is impressive, I found Burton’s version of the Oompa-Loompas to be simply unnerving (and no, I’m not midget-phobic or size-discriminating or whatever) and their choreographed musical numbers after each odious child’s ejection to be an excruciating detriment to the film’s pacing — by the time pretty little monster Veruca Salt took her plunge into the Bad Nut pit, I was struggling to keep my thumb from the Fast Forward button.

Little Cecil Coprophage suddenly realized that everyone had seen him wander into the Wonka restrooms.

Burton and screenwriter John August have also decided to retread ground previously covered in Big Fish (which I adored, by the way). In a series of flashbacks we learn that Wonka’s career and behavior stem from a traumatic childhood when he was abandoned by his candy-banning dentist father (played with standard menace by immortal Christopher Lee), and the film makes a clunky final detour to resolve Burtonka’s daddy dilemma. Highmore is a promising young actor, but after we spend the first half-hour of the movie almost exclusively with him, he merely becomes part of the background once we get behind the walls of the outrageous factory (the other child actors give such effective portrayals of intolerable brats that you can’t help but root for Charlie, but only by default). He’s almost an afterthought until the final reel, and there’s little development of a friendship between Charlie and Wonka. In fact, quite the opposite — Charlie is the one whose seemingly innocuous inquiries trigger these terrifying childhood memories in Wonka. (For some peculiar reason this whole needless tangent into forced psychology doesn’t extend to the other repellent children, who exit the factory empty-handed but otherwise practically unscathed, and apparently without learning any lessons about greed and gluttony.)

However extravagant, Hunter’s Edward Scissorhands costume was a little weak.

Despite the title, this movie is about Willy Wonka (no surprise, given the freshly minted A-list reliability of Depp) — Charlie’s situation may change over the course of the film, but it’s Wonka who experiences the transformation. Captivating without being truly charming, Burton’s reinterpretation is certainly different, but not necessarily an improvement. He’s replaced warmth with a macabre sensibility, crafting a family film that’s incongruously cheerless and even slightly sadistic (I’m of the mind that at the material’s core is a borderline horror story, therefore perfectly suited to Burton’s vision) – Burton even pulls a Snuffy the Fire Dog with a glum false ending. It’s very much a Tim Burton film: imaginative and mischievous and fanciful and twisted, and almost as enjoyable as it is uneven.

7.0 out of 10

The Look

Decidedly more stable than Depp’s amiable oddity, the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks solid, and sometimes almost good enough to eat (polycarbonate tastes like burnt pretzels, mmm!). Much of the first act is shot in dreary tones, making that much greater contrast to the splatters and stripes of lustrous hues found within the controlled pandemonium of Wonka’s factory.

8.5 out of 10

Dammit, they’re getting harder and harder to sneak up on. Maybe I need a new van…

The Noise

The Dolby 5.1 is slightly less spectacular than the visual zowie, but still effective. It’s a fairly standard audio track with a few notable moments that really pop. Everything sounds perfectly clear, but just not anywhere approaching extraordinary.

8.0 out of 10

The Goodies

The main disc features the movie, the theatrical trailer and an astonishing lack of audio commentary tracks. The sweets all exist on the second disc, with the creepy zombie-like Oompa-Loompas wandering all over the animated menus as the incessant looped songs from the movie quickly become more maddening than memorable.

The first two bonus features were the ones I found most interesting: “Attack of the Squirrels”, a 9-minute look at the difficulties of training the furry nut-checkers, and “Fantastic Mr. Dahl”, a 20-minute biography of author Roald Dahl (who we learn about through interviews with friends and family, who he obviously prized dearly) that was swiped from the BBC and obviously made before Burton’s remake ever entered any phase of production judging by its absence. “Becoming Oompa-Loompa” is a 7-minute look at the months of preparation Deep Roy endured and the technological aspects of duplicating his disturbing visage for the film.

"Please, no… I’ll play anything but Simon."

Under the heading “Making the Mix” is a subsection of other featurettes, including “Chocolate Dreams”, a basic 6-minute overview, “Sweet Sounds”, spending 7 minutes on Danny Elfman and his score, “Designer Chocolate”, which is 9-minutes on the costumes, “Under the Wrapper”, 7 minutes focusing on the special effects, and “Different Faces, Different Flavors”, 10 minutes of interviews with the cast about their characters. Considering the lack of commentary tracks or a DTS option, I sort of question whether all or most of the “extras” couldn’t have been put on a single disc with the movie. Plenty of stuff, but more fleeting and sweet than meaty.

I tend to find most ROM content and interactive material fairly useless (current DVD tech just isn’t at a point where games and such are especially user-friendly or engaging), and the inclusions here aren’t any different. There’s an Oompa-Loompa dance lesson complete with Deep Roy’s dead gaze, a clumsy nut-sorting game, an inventing machine with a very limited selection of ingredients, and something involving a search for the golden ticket from the perspective of each kid, but by then I was too frustrated with the interface and too irritated by the music to continue.

The case (covered in one of those glossy cardboard sheathes that I tend to throw away) also contains a packet of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory trading cards, and an “opportunity” to find a golden ticket potentially hidden in a bunch of coupons.

7.0 out of 10

The Artwork

A variation on one of the theatrical posters, the cover again excludes any imagery of Charlie or other children – this is Depp’s show, and it doesn’t lie about it.

7.0 out of 10

Overall: 7.0 out of 10