*Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Cinemark 16 IMAX,Tinseltown
Who can take the sunshine, sprinkle it with dew? According to Sammy Davis Jr., the Candy Man can, but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory adds director Tim Burton (Nightmare Before Christmas, Big Fish) and his twisted vision to the mix. Bake for 115 minutes, and you've got a fun, flashy and sometimes grotesque movie.
First understand: This is a revision, not a remake. Cast presumptive likenesses to 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to the wind, and let the movies exist as separate entities.
Remember Gene Wilder's gently threatening dreamer? Forget it. Gone are the burst-into-song moments -- those now are reserved exclusively for the Oompa Loompas. Remember the first for the sweet movie it was, and move on. This Charlie smacks of both the oddly nostalgic and unfamiliar -- Burton redecorates your grandma's house in dark 'n swirly stripes.
To wide-eyed perfection, Freddie Highmore plays Charlie Bucket a jug-eared boy who lives with his poor parents and his four bed-ridden grand-parents in an absurdly ramshackle house in London. Though they slurp thin cabbage soup nightly, theirs is a very loving household.
A worldwide contest is announced: Famed recluse and chocolatier Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) will open his factory doors to the five lucky children (and their parents) who find the golden-foil tickets hidden in chocolate bars.
A candy-buying frenzy follows, and we meet Charlie's winning peers: Gluttonous, chocolate-smeared Augustus Gloop; spoiled little rich girl Veruca Salt; competitive gum-chewer Violet Beauregarde; and the violent, hyperactive Mike Teavee. They are the repulsive, rotten kids we're supposed to hate, with parents even more despicable.
Just as Charlie's father's job as a toothpaste-capper is outsourced to a machine, Charlie miraculously finds the last precious golden ticket. Asking his Grandpa Joe (played with owlish charm by David Kelly) to join him, Charlie embarks on his adventure through the halls of Wonka, where, according to Wonka, "Everything is eatable. Even I'm eatable, but that is called 'cannibalism,' my dear children."
Swoon-star Depp has the ridiculous ability to simultaneously be so damn hot and so damn freaky. His Wonka is as odd as they come, sporting a Mad Hatter look in his top hat, velvet coat and pageboy haircut.
Depp's a marvelous comedic actor, at times appearing intensely determined and, at others, going massively broad, recalling the way he played Hunter S. Thompson. His pale countenance and childish tics conjure Michael Jackson, though this hermit is obviously uncomfortable, and even a little horrified, at the presence of children.
Burton both remains true to Roald Dahl's book and departs wildly from it. Flashbacks -- to his childhood and his first contact with the jungle-native Oompa Loompas, who later become his employees (or slaves, depending on the blogger) -- explain how Wonka became a solitary eccentric.
Oompa politics aside, actor Deep Roy deserves some sort of medal for the hundreds of Oompa shoes he fills; he plays all of the tiny workers. Though their new songs are full of gratuitous visual bling, they're unfortunately no longer fun sing-alongs -- in fact, you can barely understand a word.
Charlie's conclusion tosses some loops -- especially for Wonka -- to create what ultimately is a satisfying twist. Though Charlie isn't all cotton-candy fluff, it's mostly exciting, mindless fun.
"Why is everything completely pointless?" whines Mike Teavee at one point along the tour.
Our hero, Charlie, explains it best, replying matter-of factly, "Candy doesn't have to have a point -- that's why it's candy."
-- Kara Luger