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CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005)

Tim Burton's second involvement with the work of Roald Dahl (after producing James and the Giant Peach) would be based on the book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", which had been filmed once before as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971).

Though that film has a strong cult following (mainly for Gene Wilder's entertaining lead performance and the songs) many devoted fans of the book, and Dahl's family, were unhappy with how many liberties it took with the story. Burton himself wasn't a fan of the original film, which meant it was quite a different experience for him than Planet of the Apes.

Burton's version, with a script by Big Fish writer John August, was billed as a more faithful adaptation. Burton himself wanted to keep it closer to the book, though Wonka's backstory and the extended ending were departures.

Shooting took place in England (at Pinewood studios, which had also been used for Batman) and Burton was once again reunited with his favourite actor, Johnny Depp. For the first time, thanks to the success of Pirates of the Caribbean (2003), the studio didn't suggest other names in place of Depp.

Snow falls behind the WB logo, letting the audience know we're in for another trip into Burton's wonderland. The main titles are the most entertaining in a Burton film for a while, a delirious trip down the chimney and through the Chocolate Factory.

We're in classic Burton territory, as we watch countless chocolate bars being produced by machines that recall those of the Inventor in Edward Scissorhands. The hand of Willy Wonka (which, like the rest of the sequence, looks suspiciously computer-generated) places golden tickets in select chocolate bars. Finally, boxes with different destinations on them are put into vans and driven away from the ominous factory.

After the whimsical opening, the story moves very quickly for the most part. Like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Big Fish, the film uses a narrator (this time the voice of Geoffrey Holder) to set the scene. We meet Charlie Bucket, the poor but kind-hearted boy who lives with his family (including two sets of grandparents) in a crammed house in the shadow of the ominous Wonka factory.

Charlie's Grandpa Joe actually worked at the factory once, and from him we learn the history of the factory (it was built fifteen years ago) and its reclusive owner, Willy Wonka. There's an amusing sequence where Wonka builds a chocolate palace for a Prince in New Delhi, which if course then melts and collapses on the first hot day.

Back at the factory, increasing cases of thievery force Wonka to fire all his staff and close the factory. The factory later reopened, but no one is ever seen going in or out. While Wonka's face is usually obscured in these flashback scenes, we still see more of him than we did in the original film (which kept him completely off-screen for the first half), removing some of the mystery around the character.

Soon after comes the announcement that five golden tickets have been placed inside random Wonka bars. The lucky kids who find them will win a lifetime supply of chocolate and a tour of the mysterious factory, plus one of the kids will win an even greater prize. This leads to a funny series of vignettes where we meet the first four winners.

Augustus Gloop from Düsseldorf, Germany finds the first ticket and is a greedy fat kid just as Charlie's other Grandpa, George, predicted.

In Buckinghamshire, England, Veruca Salt gets the second ticket thanks to her rich daddy getting all the women at his nut factory to search for it.

Violet Beauregarde in Atlanta, Georgia gets the third ticket by switching from gum (her favourite) to candy bars. She is introduced showing her competitive nature by kickboxing her much bigger sparring partners.

Finally, in Denver, Colorado video game obsessed Mike Teavee finds the fourth ticket. He managed to crack Wonka's system to find the ticket - he doesn't even like chocolate (which causes another outburst from Charlie's irate Grandpa George). With just one scene each, it's clear how glutinous, greedy, proud and wrathful the four kids are (to name just four of the deadly sins).

It's hard not to root for Charlie, who only gets one bar a year, to find the final ticket. There is some attempt at suspense - neither his birthday bar nor another bar Grandpa Joe buys him has the ticket, and there is the announcement of a fifth winner (which later turns out to be a fraud) - but it's still a foregone conclusion that Charlie will find the fifth ticket.

In fact, even if you haven't read Roald Dahl's book or seen the 1971 film adaptation, none of the plot is really a surprise. It's obvious that the four bratty kids will get their comeuppance and Charlie will be rewarded with the ultimate prize. The fun is in seeing how this all happens.

The kids and their chosen guardian all arrive at the factory, each parent offering their own form of support ("Eyes on the prize, Violet" Mrs. Beauregarde reminds her daughter). The official introduction of Wonka cleverly subverts the big entrance expected. Following a puppet show introduction (the infamous annoying "Wonka Welcome Song" from the teaser trailer is perfectly used here) that bursts into flames before the end, Wonka casually appears beside his guests watching the show along with them.

He reads some prepared cards awkwardly and then invites the guests into his factory (unlike in the first film, no waivers are signed, which would presumably leave Wonka open to all kinds of legal action later on). They walk through a seemingly tiny door and enter the main room of the factory, where the chocolate river flows. Then we catch our first glimpse of an Oompa Loompa.

Augustus falls into the river and is sucked up into a pipe, which of course he gets blocked in. The Oompa Loompas then sing a song about Augustus, showing their mastery of improvisation. Augustus is finally passed through the pipe his worried mother goes to find him. One kid down, four to go!

When the guests move onto a riverboat, Wonka has his first flashback to his childhood. The braces and headgear on the young Wonka are very Burtonesque. We learn that he was the son of a dentist and that, after he had gone trick or treating, his father burnt all the candy he received.

The final flashback later in the film reveals that Willy decided to leave home and explore the world, and his father warned him he wouldn't be there when he got back. After an amusing scene where it looks like Wonka is traveling to many different countries but is actually just walking through a Flags of the World exhibit, the boy returns home to find his house is completely gone, leaving behind an empty space in the row of houses like a tooth that has been removed. It's probably the most surreal moment in the film.

The high-speed boat ride is a visual treat. The boat was on a gymbal to give it convincing motion. On the tour, the boat passes by various rooms (including one where bovines are being whipped - to make "whipped cream" of course) and stops in the inventing room. Wonka has created an everlasting gobstopper that promotes hair growth, but it turned the Oompa Loompa it was tested on into something resembling Cousin It from The Addams Family.

His latest invention (which comes out of a ridiculously large machine) is a piece of gum that tastes like a full course meal. Of course Violet, who is obsessed with chewing gum, tries it before Wonka can warn her about the side effects. When she gets to the blueberry pie desert she turns blue and starts to swell up ("Violet, you're turning violet!" her mother exclaims).

The next stop is the nut sorting room, where the spoilt Vercua decides she wants one of the squirrel workers for a pet.
Veruca is attacked and sent down the trash hole as a bad nut. Animatronic and CG squirrels were mixed in seamlessly with the real ones for this scene. Training the squirrels was a long and arduous process. The filmmakers had to use fake nuts otherwise the squirrels would have just eaten them.

Next Wonka takes the remaining guests into the great glass elevator, which can travel in any direction. They fly past fudge mountain and candy being fired into the air by cannons for no apparent reason (exploding candy for your enemies?) before entering the testing room for Wonka's latest invention - television chocolate.

After Wonka sends a giant chocolate bar from one end of the room to a television on the other (where of course it comes out much smaller) Mike is so incensed that he has invented teleportation without even realising it that he tries it out himself. The inventive TV sequence includes Mike in the shower scene from Psycho (1960).

It even manages to breathe new life into an homage 2001: A Space Odyssey, in an inspired scene with a chocolate bar replacing the monolith. After being tossed through various TV channels accompanied by the last song (which features the Oompa Loopas as a hair metal and psychedelic band) Mike emerges as a tiny version of his former self.

Of course, as Charlie is now the only one left, he is the winner. Wonka takes Charlie and his Grandpa into the glass elevator, which then breaks out of the roof of the factory. Outside, we see the fates of the other kids. Augustus and Veruca seem to get off pretty lightly compared to Violet and Mike, who are left permanently deformed.

The elevator crashes into the Bucket home and Wonka reveals Charlie's prize. Unlike in the first film, Charlie doesn't immediately accept ownership of the factory, because it would mean he could never see his family again.

Wonka visits Charlie again and the boy convinces him that Willy needs to see his father. The scene where Wonka visits his father for a checkup (shot from inside Willy's mouth) looks very similar to the dentist scene in Little Shop of Horrors (1986).

It's fair to say that, for most of its running time, the film is, like the candy that comes out of the factory, sweet but rather lacking in substance. When Wonka reconciles with his father and learns from Charlie the value of family, the film does finally show its heart.

In the final scene, while Willy and Charlie brainstorm ideas over dinner with the Bucket family, it’s revealed that their house now resides inside the Chocolate Factory. The narrator, who is revealed as an Oompa Loompa, says both Charlie and Willy got something special in the end. While some might find this ending too predictably heartwarming, it does end the film on a high note.

The acting in the film is good across the board. Depp gives another out there performance that accentuates Wonka's amusing eccentricities while retaining his humanity. From his very first appearance he puts a distinctive spin on the character that banishes all comparisons with Gene Wilder's Wonka. And for all the talk of Depp resembling Michael Jackson in the film, he comes across far more like a slightly effeminate mix of Ed Wood and Dr. Evil. Depp himself used local children's TV and game show hosts as his inspiration.

Unlike in the book, Wonka seems to have a phobia of both kids and parents, reacting with disgust when Violet hugs him and being unable to even say the word "parents". Like Pee-Wee he is a child in an adult's body that clearly feels threatened by anything to do with growing up or reproduction. He also has the amusing habit of accusing Mike of mumbling whenever the cynical kid says something Wonka doesn't want to hear.

All of the five main children are perfectly cast. Freddie Highmore again displays the winsomeness and chemistry with Depp that made him stand out in Finding Neverland. Though his character is a little too bland and practical (always thinking of others before himself) Highmore makes him likeable rather than pious.

The other four child actors excel at playing what are basically nasty caricatures. Mike Teavee almost acts as the audience in some scenes, pointing out how stupid and pointless many of Wonka's inventions are. The fat suit used for Augustus Gloop is pretty convincing.

The supporting cast is equally strong, with David Kelly, Noah Taylor and Helena Bonham Carter (sporting somewhat distracting false teeth) all giving likeable performances as, respectively, Charlie's Grandpa Joe, father and mother. The great Christopher Lee manages to bring both menace and, later on, warmth to his role as Wonka's dentist father, Wilbur. Missi Pyle (in her second Burton film) gives an amusing performance as Mrs. Beauregarde.

The diminutive Deep Roy (who has appeared in three Burton films in a row) is made even smaller and seems to take great pleasure in playing an army of digitally multiplied Oompa Loompas. Some of the dance choreography he performs is pretty funny, especially the synchronised swimming during the Augustus Gloop song. Roy rehearsed for three months to learn all his moves.

The Oompa Loompas were created through live action, animatronics and some computer animation, but they all have the distinctive look and mannerisms of Roy. The British computer effects crew had to replicate the actor up to fifty-seven times for some shots.

The film mostly relies on visual comedy (Wonka walks into the glass elevator . . . twice!) but some of Wonka's dialogue is quite memorable, especially lines like, "Even I am eatable. But that is called cannibalism dear children and is frowned upon?" He also utters doubles entendres such as, "Don't touch that squirrel's nuts!".

Burton clearly revels returning to his roots with a bright, funfair ride of a movie. Once again he gets good performances, especially from the child actors, and keeps things moving briskly along. This is clearly Burton in fun mode rather than serious mode, but it suits the material.

It goes without saying the production values are excellent. The gray, slightly sinister world outside the factory is perfectly timeless and placeless (though it is a bit disconcerting to hear ostensibly English people use terms like dollars and band-aids). The slanted home of the Bucket family recalls previous Burton character's abodes. Aside from the Bucket house, the homes could be in any generic city. The almost black and white color scheme of Charlie's world contrasts well with the Oz-like factory.

The factory itself, built on the James Bond set, is beautifully realised, using mostly physical sets. It's refreshing to see CGI used so sparingly in a modern Hollywood movie. The sets were built complete with a 360 degree panorama for the most part.

The interior of the factory is a riot of colour and invention. Each room we visit offers new delights for the eyes (as well as a memorable end for each of Charlie's rivals). It's literal eye candy at its finest, though perhaps not as tasty as the sets in the original film. The exception is the riverboat, which actually looks like it is made out of candy. The filmmakers spent months trying to find the right consistency of chocolate for the river.

Danny Elfman's score is one of his most enjoyable in years. However, the songs he has composed for the Oompa Loompas (using the lyrics from Dahl's book for each child's sticky end) have mixed results. They are certainly inventive (each one is in a different musical style, some recalling Elfman's Oingo Boingo days and one even referencing Bollywood musicals) but the lyrics are hard to understand a lot of the time and consequently the songs sometimes distract rather than add to the plot.

If the film has any theme, it is the importance of fatherhood. Like Big Fish, the film is all about parenting, which was no doubt still on Burton's mind following the birth of his son. It also contains some familiar Burton themes and motifs (though whether these were deliberately put into the script once he signed on or were just coincidental is hard to say). The flashback structure (three separate flashbacks that reveal the main character's troubled past) recalls Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow.

When Willy Wonka undergoes therapy with a silent Oompa Loompa analyst ("You're good") it's possible Burton may have related as he himself once went to see a shrink who never said anything to him!

As a pure sugar-rush of light-hearted entertainment, it's almost impossible not to enjoy the film. It won't join the ranks of Burton's masterpieces, but it's the kind of kid's film that adults can equally enjoy. It has a great mix of simple slapstick and gleefully perverse humour, such as the squirrel attack on Veruca Salt or the glimpse of a burn unit for puppets.

The film does have flaws (such as Charlie being a bit bland and the narrative being predictable and not very exciting) but those same criticisms could be leveled at the book and original film adaptation. It definitely doesn't reach the heights of previous Burton/Depp collaborations, but it's a visually stunning confection that's twisted fun for all the family.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory generally received good reviews (compared to most remakes) and was one of the biggest hits of the summer of 2005, earning over $200 million in the U.S. and surpassing Burton’s Batman worldwide. More importantly, unlike Planet of the Apes it was a blockbuster that most audiences actually seemed to enjoy.

While he was making Charlie, Burton was also directing a stop motion animated film, about a bride who has ceased to be, an ex-bride if you will . . .

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