Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Review

dvd-charliechocolate200Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

with Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly
Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Roald Dahl and John August 
(Warner Home Video)
by Chad Van Wagner

As I’ve noted before, concern over remakes is a new complaint. God knows that remakes themselves aren’t new. In fact, it was only recently that art was expected to be “fresh” or “different.” Hell, originality wasn’t considered particularly useful in pop music until the Beatles, and pop had been around a hell of a long time before those guys showed up.

No, the thing that brought about disdain for remakes was a two-pronged beast. One, a burst of unprecedented originality (starting with the various New Waves from Europe, and hitting the mainstream with Hollywood in the ’70s) Two, with the advent of mass media, we now had repeatable legends in their own times. Why would you remake a great film (like, for example, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) when the “original” had not only burned itself into our brains, but could be accessed at any time via home video?

Because sometimes new things can be said with old material, that’s why. Besides, Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was being made from the original book, not the first film. And what a different film it is.

Not on first blush, admittedly. Tim Burton’s trademark visual style isn’t exactly worlds away from the 1971 version we all know and love, and the warped funny/sinister tone isn’t much of an alteration either. But the underlying point is completely different, and it works both for and against the film.

For: Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka is the twisted, dysfunctional, creepy misfit he logically should be, considering his background. Depp is brilliant, as usual, and his ability to make Willy simultaneously dull and hysterical has no right to work as well as it does. The somewhat stilted and empty scenes inside the factory also underscore the hollow, false happiness Wonka necessarily feels. It’s a bit odd to see a theme like this played out against an exaggeratedly happy, Technicolor background, but it’s this paradox that offers the most reward during repeated viewings.

Against: The somewhat stilted and empty scenes inside the factory run counter to what people will expect, and at first glance, it makes the film seem flat and uninspired. Herein lies the danger with remakes: You can have a brilliant film, but if it goes against a towering memory in your viewers’ heads, it’s going to be an awkward, artificial experience.

Sad, because this is a fine film, one that combines yet another great Depp performance with a bizarre and unlikely vehicle for genuine emotion and (non-irritating) sentimentality. It’s not perfect by any means (the father and son dynamic goes very much against what Roald Dahl, writer of the original book, was all about, not to mention it just doesn’t really work) but those are quibbles, particularly since the fast-forward button exists. Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp can coexist peacefully, if you’ll let ’em.