Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Hollywood continues to do its bit for the Kyoto protocol. Is there any industry in North America with a higher commitment to recycling? Still, it's been 34 years since the last definitive re-imagining of Roald Dahl's kid-lit classic, time enough for Mike Teevee to grow up, make his way in the biz, and greenlight the inevitable remake.
Being schooled in this line, Mike would know a good package when he saw one: Tim Burton and Roald Dahl are such a tight fit it's surprising it's taken this long for them to hook up (Dahl is dead of course, but that's not necessarily detrimental in a collaboration of this kind). True, Burton isn't a natural storyteller, but they share a bent for the fantastic and a malicious sense of humour bordering on misanthropy.
Burton's pop goth vision even resembles the spindly caricatures you find in Quentin Blake's memorable Dahl illustrations - and that's essentially Burton's role here; illustrator. It's a capacity in which he excells, and can easily out-class predecessor Mel Stuart. The Buckets' home is a neo-Dickensian hovel, and the Wonka factory is gobstopping day-glo candy-colored wonderland, somewhere between Peter Jackson-shire and an Ikea playpit. (In this version of the morality tale, when Charlie has to choose between the two, he ends up with the best of both worlds.)
Less psychedelic than the trailer implies, the movie's trippier moments are reserved for the comeuppance sequences, when Vi turns into a giant blueberry, or Veruca is set upon by a horde of angry squirrels. Mike TV watches aghast as Wonka teleports a chocolate bar into the monolith sequence from 2001 - A Space Odyssey, and promptly inserts himself into the living hell of an MTV-surfing montage. Amusing as it is to watch these spoiled brats get their due, there is a price to pay: each is accompanied by a dodgy song and dance from the Oompah Loompas - petite blue clones generated by one Deep Roy. Unfortunately, they don't call 'em showstoppers for nothing, and Danny Elfman's tunes are disappointingly blah.
As for 13-year-old Freddie Highmore (Peter in Finding Neverland), I can't say enough good things. He is a proper Charlie, let's leave it at that.
Which brings us to Johnny Depp. Ever since he admitted he modeled Captain Jack Sparrow on Keith Richards the fans have been keen to spot rogue rock-star traces surfacing in his work (I particularly like the theory he based Finding Neverland's J.M Barrie on U2's The Edge, but fear it won't hold up in court).
Apparently the zeitgeist demands that we see Mr. Michael Jackson in Willy Wonka - even if the resemblance is only (pasty) skin deep. It's true that WW wears purple gloves as he conducts the little darlings on a private tour of his own industrial neverland, and his voice is at least an octave higher than Sparrow's, but with his dandy red velvet jacket, top hat and stacked heels, I was reminded more of that other asexual Factory magnate, Andy Warhol, with perhaps a soupcon of Pee Wee Herman for good measure.
It's a studiedly strange, soft and hard performance, even if Gene Wilder was warmer and wittier without need of such laborious embellishment. And then, Burton (who seems to have softened up since becoming a parent) and screenwriter John 'Big Fish' August feel the need to explain away this wonderfully weird enigma with flashbacks. Not only did poor Willy have Christopher Lee for a dad, he was also his dentist! (That gnashing sound you hear surely emanates from Roald Dahl's boxed and buried skull.)
There is a long and sometimes learned debate waging on the message boards of the internet movie database as to whether the Oompahs represent slave labour - and if so, how this reflects on their seemingly beneficent employer, Mr. Wonka. The reader may unravel the allegory to his own satisfaction, but I should rather note in passing that Mr. Roy's rather splendid filmography is worth a role-call: since gracing the screen as an Italian Assassin in The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) he's played Key Elf, Van Bullock, Princess Aura's Pet Fellini, Droopy McCool, Teeny Weeny, Tin Man, Grizabella, Main Monster, Gorilla Kid, Hitchhiking Kid, and Mr. Soggybottom. It ain't Shakespeare, but it's a living. Or as Willy Wonka would have it: 'Candy doesn't have to have a point. That's why it's candy'.