J.D. Lafrance
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Deluxe Edition DVD Review

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Deluxe Edition

February 14, 2006

Director: Tim Burton,
Starring: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Missi Pyle, James Fox, Deep Roy, Christopher Lee, Adam Godley, Annasophia Robb,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

When Johnny Depp and Tim Burton team up to do a movie the results are usually fantastic: Edward Scissorhands (1990), Ed Wood (1994) and to a lesser degree Sleepy Hollow (1999). However, since Planet of the Apes (2001), Burton’s films have been missing that certain personal touch – the fascination with darkness mixed with a touch of wonderment – that used to make them so good. Fans keep hoping that his next movie will be a return to form but it hasn’t happened yet. So, anticipation was high for Burton’s latest, an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, starring Depp as none other than Willy Wonka. If anybody could successfully tap into Dahl’s sensibilities it would be Burton, but could he equal Gene Wilder’s memorable and much beloved take in 1971?

It has been years since Willy Wonka’s legendary factory has been operational. It closed its doors due to industrial espionage. One day smoke starts to billow out of its stacks but no one has seen anyone go in and out of the factory gates for years. Signs start appearing on the streets proclaiming that five children will be allowed to tour Wonka’s factory and one will be awarded a very special prize beyond their wildest dreams. Golden tickets are included in a chocolate bar for some lucky individual to find.

Soon, five lucky children find these tickets: the gluttonous Augustus Gloop, the spoiled rich kid Veruca Salt, the aggressively competitive Violent Beauregarde, the video game/T.V. obsessed Mike Teavee and the dirt poor Charlie Bucket (Highmore). Charlie lives in a tiny, run-down shack with his parents and four grandparents. His family can barely make ends meet and despite all this he is still a decent, selfless child – the archetypal Burton protagonist in that he’s an outsider and a dreamer who perseveres despite the odds. So, Charlie takes his Grandpa Joe (Kelly) along (because he used to work in Wonka’s factory) and with the other four children they meet Wonka and tour his strange, wondrous factory. Right from the start, something seems slightly askew. The automated puppets that greet them catch fire and melt before their very eyes. A seemingly oblivious Wonka meets them and makes a first impression like that of an alien from another planet.

Depp plays Wonka like a funky mix of the optimistic Ed Wood, the arrested development of Andy Kaufman and the flash of a kids show host. It’s a typically off-kilter performance by Depp who proves that his recent foray into big budget movies (Pirates of the Caribbean) hasn’t ruined his ability to create memorable characters. Depp’s Wonka doesn’t really like the kids with the exception of Charlie and barely conceals his contempt for them and this comes out in funny asides or amusing facial expressions from the rubber-faced Depp. There are also hints of deep regret and a damaged psyche as the film progresses and Wonka’s troubled past is fleshed out (this is the major point where the film deviates from the book) explaining his motivations. As he did in Pirates of the Caribbean (2003), Depp plays it broad creating his own Wonka that isn’t better or worse than Wilder’s – just different.

Burton’s film contains one visually impressive set piece after another as we explore the inner workings of Wonka’s factory. One room features rivers of chocolate, fed by a waterfall of the stuff. There are trees made of candy, edible grass and so on. Of course, each child’s rotten vice becomes their undoing and puts them at the mercy of the unforgiving environment of the factory where they all get their much deserved comeuppance except for Charlie of course. All the while the exotic looking Oompa-Loompas (Roy), Wonka’s tireless workers, break out into song and dance whenever a child meets their demise. Each time it is a different style: one looks like it was directed by Dr. Seuss, another features a disco-funk vibe, another heavy metal, and so on. The Oompa-Loompas act as a Greek chorus commenting on each horrible child.

Burton wisely doesn’t try to remake the Wilder film but goes back to Dahl’s book. This is the first film since Sleepy Hollow to feel like a truly authentic Tim Burton film as he really connects with the material in a big way. It’s almost as if reconnecting with Depp on this film (and Corpse Bride) has helped the filmmaker find his way back to what made his films so interesting in the first place. Let’s hope that this is the beginning of a move back to more personal films like Ed Wood and a distancing of director-for-hire projects like Apes and Big Fish (2003).

Special Features:

Included is the obligatory theatrical trailer.

“Attack of the Squirrels” shows how an animal wrangler trained the squirrels for a scene in the movie. He even staged a training camp for the wild animals and it was a long and challenging process to get them to do what he wanted. For most of the squirrels, it took 2,000 repetitions to learn a specific task.

“Fantastic Mr. Dahl” takes a look at author Roald Dahl with vintage archival footage of the man and testimony from his friends, family and collaborators. This is a fantastic look at his life and writing process, underlining what a fertile imagination he had and also a subversive streak that makes his prose so memorable.

“Becoming Oompa-Loompa” examines how they took actor Deep Roy and transformed him into an army of Oompa-Loompas thanks to CGI. He had to learn all kinds of dance routines, singing and playing various musical instruments. Of all the actors, he had to work the hardest playing so many different roles that was then augmented by special effects.

“Making the Mix” is a collection of featurettes that explore various aspects of the movie, including the origins of the project, the changes they made from the book, the casting process (including the kids), Danny Elfman’s score and how he approached such a daunting task, costume and production design and finally the special effects. Thankfully, Burton relied as much on practical sets and miniatures as possible with the CGI done only to compliment the real sets.

Also included are several interactive games.

“Oompa-Loompa Dance” takes you through two dances from the movie and then you have to try and keep an Oompa-Loompa dancing by following the corresponding moves.

In “The Bad Nut” you have to help Wonka’s squirrels sort good and bad nuts with only three tries to get it right.

“The Inventing Machine” allows you to make your own candy and test it on an Oompa-Loompa.

Finally, there is the “Search for the Golden Ticket” which allows you to help the five children find their respective ticket through a series of games.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 85%



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