When one hears of “Willy Wonka”, undoubtedly the first image to pop into their head is that of Gene Wilder, and not Johnny Depp. Still, this new film version (based on the book – not the movie) of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory might change your opinion of that – but only because Depp is so utterly bizarre in the role as the ultimate candymaker.
This is a Tim Burton movie, through and through. What that ultimately means, of course, is that the vision of the world on the screen is twisted and warped, and fits perfectly with the story that Roald Dahl wrote all those years ago. I don’t need to go into the storyline – I’m sure you all know it. (And if you don’t, shame on you – go educate yerselves!) The screenplay by John August does a nice job of sticking to the basics of the story, but with an added subplot: Wonka’s traumatic candy-free childhood, at the hands of his dentist father (played perfectly creepily by Christopher Lee). Other than that, the story stays relatively true to the book.
But, you ask, what of the Oompa Loompas? Gone are the green-haired, orange-faced midgets. In their place is Deep Roy, the diminutive Indian who has been replicated en masse to play each and every Oompa Loompa. And yes, they sing too! Oh, how they sing – four songs, and four very different styles. Composer Danny Elfman is back, of course, and has resurrected the dark twisted music from his Oingo Boingo days for the songs here. Sung by Elfman, they appear to be sung on screen by the Oompa Loompas – along with wildly imaginative choreographed sequences. Interestingly enough, the press audience loved it – even though I’m not sure how it will go over with a more common theater crowd.
Depp, as Wonka, is ultimately creepy. His pale smooth skin and denture-laden grin is weird enough, but it’s the complacency with which he watches each child’s “demise” from the factory tour that is unsettling. Like a psychopath, he expresses no emotion to the horrible things that happen to the kids, except for maybe a glimpse of exasperation.
The first half of the film is the best part, with the focus on Charlie’s poverty-stricken family, and his hopes of getting a Golden Ticket. Once he’s in the factory though, and Depp shows up, Burton basically turned the dial to “weird and fun”, at the expense of some real depth and emotion. August does try to remedy some of that with flashbacks to Wonka’s childhood, but unfortunately it ultimately feels tacked on as a plot device.
Still, the film was a lot of fun, and a visual treat. To help grease the wheels with the press, upon leaving the theater we were witness to a free-for-all glutton fest with boxes and boxes of Wonka candy (aka Nestle) that were for the taking. People were stuffing their bags, pockets, and purses with “SweetTarts”, “Nerds”, “Oompas”, and other sugary delights. Sadly though, there was no actual chocolate, so Warner Bros. loses a point for that. (Hehe – kidding!)
So in the end, if you’re a fan of the book – check out the film. Sure it’s not like the Gene Wilder version, but after the first few minutes, I didn’t even give that a second thought.