In 1971 the first film version of the classic Roald Dahl children’s novel ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ was made, starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, and instantly became a classic itself. With upbeat songs and strange goings-on, it was sure to appeal to kids, but the ever-present aura of menace surrounding the factory and the man himself gave it an altogether different feeling. Why Tim Burton wanted to remake it isn’t immediately clear (although it does seem tailor-made for a director of his peculiar vision), and unfortunately he has failed to make the source material his own.
Introduced to us first is the hero of the piece, Freddie Highmore as Charlie. Stuck in abject poverty – his house is so unsuitable, snow comes through the roof and the doors are all on angles – he lives with his mother and father, and his four grandparents who share one great bed in the middle of the living room. Highmore, last seen in Finding Neverland also opposite Depp, brings an uncertain charm to Charlie, and is entirely believable throughout. His performance is the best of the film, surprising when one considers the greatness of Depp.
Through a variety of forms, we then meet the four other children lucky enough to win tickets to enter the Wonka factory, and they are the characters we’ve loved all the years since 1971. Subtle changes have been made to bring them up to the present – Mike Teevee is now an expert at console-based computer games as well as a scientific genius, Violet Beauregarde is attended by her mother who has the over-competitive attributes of another JonBenet Ramsey mother – and these work for the most part. What doesn’t quite work is Depp himself.
Sadly, the man responsible for Captain Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood, doesn’t quite hit the mark as Wonka. His appearance is creepy enough in a Michael Jackson kind of way, but his demeanor and delivery don’t capture the heights of Wilder’s original performance. He does seem to fit in well in the Burton ‘factory’, and yet he doesn’t fill the imagination as he should.
The Oompa Loompas are given a backstory, and their personality and songs provide some highlights in this otherwise fairly uninspired rehashing. At least their new songs give the audience something to anticipate. Disappointingly, the use of CGI to animate the Oompa Loompas is only patchy, with several moments that really jar.
Upon finally seeing this new film version of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel, all I can say is – Australia waited months longer than everyone else for this?Rating: