Saturday, 23 February 2013

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

"I'm sorry, I was having a flashback."

So, Tim Burton did a movie version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Bound to happen, wasn't it? The book is perfect for his whimsicality (is that a word?) and visual style. There  is room, I suppose, for the complaint that Burton has become too comfortable with a certain kind of film and a certain type of approach- vaguely gothic, whimsical films in the fairytale style which tend to star Johnny Depp or the missus, Helena Bonham Carter, and that it would be nice to see him do something else for a change. But the formula works, again and again.

Here, for example, we focus on a poor family who live in a version of modern England in a kind of poverty which implies no Welfare State, and all of whom, Oliver Twist-like, speak in not entirely realistic RP accents. The town in which they live is a highly stylised version of an Industrial Revolution northern city, a sort of cross between Coketown from Hard Times and the paintings of L.S. Lowry. It's some distance from the American setting of Roald Dahl's novel (a childhood favourite, naturally), but it works wonderfully well.

The children accompanying Charlie on his tour of Willy Wonka's factory are deliciously horrible grotesques, as we might expect. It's an inspired idea to have the great Deep[ Roy portray all of the Ooompa Loompas, and their delightfully and darkly funny songs at each child's comeuppance are a highlight of the film, although the sequence with Mike Teevee, inveighing against the bad influence of television, has dated somewhat; the twenty-first century has very different, though equally silly, targets for its periodic moral panics.

Johnny Depp is superb, and suitably weird, as Willy Wonka. I didn't like the treatment of the character towards the end of the film, however. When he and Charlie take the Glass Elevator up and out of the factory we get not an exciting adventure with the Vernicious Knids but a load of sentimental family-themed twaddle that I could have done without. Still, at least this silly subplot gives us a glimpse of the great Christopher Lee. There are also lots of nicely metatextual gags throughout, and that sort of stuff is right up my street.

If you'll forgive the ending, this film is a delight. Yes, it's exactly what you'd expect Tim Burton to do with the source material, but isn't that what we all want?

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