Just like the wild boat ride down the Wonka factory chocolate river, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a loop-de-loop roller coaster ride through the Roald Dahl fun house as imagined by director Tim Burton. And as soon as it was over, I wanted to go again.
It’s fun and funny, and like every Burton film, a visual feast on screen. The spirit of Busby Berkeley is alive and well, and it beats in the heart of an Oompa Loompa. To be more exact, hundreds of them, all played by one stone-faced actor (Deep Roy) through the wonders of CGI. With each bratty child who’s jettisoned along the tour, composer Danny Elfman supplies a different musical style for the Oompas to serenade them off.
Then of course there’s Depp’s much talked about characterization of the beloved Willy Wonka. Not since Jack Sparrow stepped from the crows nest of his sinking ship onto the dock of Pirates of the Carribbean has an actor’s portrayal sparked so much debate over creative choice. And I’ll admit when I first saw the trailer for Charlie, I shrieked in horror at the look and sound of this new Willy Wonka. But I reserved judgment–if there’s any actor that I have faith in, it’s Johnny Depp.
Check all preconceived notions at the gate when you enter, (and do your best to banish all thoughts of a certain Michael), and you’ll be rewarded by a truly quirky and thoroughly engaging performance. Granted, it takes a bit of getting used to, the voice is strangely pitched (think a slightly glammer version of Mr. Rogers) but I just went with it, and by the end, I bought it. It worked for me because his performance really drew me in. Depp in any role is charismatic, but as Wonka you just can’t take your eyes off him. I was fascinated by the expressions that tick and trip over his face as he reacts to what’s going on around him, and the horrible little children under foot.
Depp had the right instinct when he urged Tim Burton to cast Freddie Highmore, his costar in Finding Neverland, as Charlie Bucket. This little man can more than hold his own opposite Wonka. The supporting cast as a whole is terrific, especially David Kelly as spry Grandfather Joe, who pops out of bed to accompany Charlie on the tour. And it was good to see Noah Taylor (who I have fond memories of from the outstanding Australian film Flirting.) [****]