Film Fare...with Mark Moorehead
Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
General Audiences: B+
Wonderful remake of Roald Dahl children’s classic about eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka and Charlie Bucket, a good boy from a poor family dreaming of touring the town’s mysterious chocolate factory. Nothing objectionable unless you don’t like chocolate.
Family Audiences: A
Old-fashioned morality tale coated in contemporary language to help the medicine go down. The virtues of family are at the core of this endearing fantasy. Rated PG for quirky situations and mild language (no offensive words noted during the screening).
In an age when remakes are often seedier than their originals--usually due to a director’s attempt to be funnier, rowdier and more contemporary--family values were not what I expected to find in this remake of the 1971 classic Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.
While Charlie and the Chocolate Factory extols the same virtues as its predecessor, it goes a step further by allowing Charlie (portrayed by Freddie Highmore) to teach millionaire Willie Wonka (played by Johnny Depp) the importance of family.
And that’s just one of several notable and welcome differences in this new version.
In the 1971 version, Charlie’s moral compass is more ambiguous, and so is the ending. Director Tim Burton’s 2005 retooling of the story places Charlie on a higher pedestal and provides a tidier, more appealing ending.
Additionally, Depp is actually more humorous as Wonka than Gene Wilder’s portrayal of him, which is a feat since Wilder did an excellent job in the role. Each time a character makes an inane remark or asks a silly question, Depp reacts with all the quirky wit and unabashed honesty one would expect of a reclusive, eccentric genius.
For those who are only vaguely familiar with the Chocolate Factory story, allow me to recap. Willie Wonka owns the most popular chocolate company in the world. For the last 15 years, no one has been seen going into or out of his gigantic factory.
Naturally, townsfolk are curious, and asking each other how Wonka makes chocolate without people?
After years of speculation, the reclusive Wonka announces a worldwide contest. He randomly places a golden ticket under the foil wrappers of five candy bars that have been shipped all over the world. The five lucky children to discover a ticket in a Wonka bar will receive a personally guided tour of Wonka’s factory and a chance to win a huge prize.
One of winners is Charlie Bucket, an honest, loving, considerate child who lives with his destitute parents and both sets of grandparents in a dilapidated old house with gaping holes in the roof. The other four winners (two boys and two girls) have glaring weaknesses that represent the shortcomings of the overindulged.
However, it isn’t just the characters that make the show a hit.
The chocolate factory’s imaginative landscape includes a cascading waterfall of pure milk chocolate that flows into a chocolate river, edible grass, cherries as big as apples and a translucent boat of pure pink sugar paddled by an army of Oompa-Loompas, little men no taller than your knee who punctuate the film with high comedy. Each time one of the greedy children grabs for the forbidden, they get their just reward, which means viewers are treated to a flashy, Broadway-style “moral of the story” song and dance number by the Oompa-Loopas. ]
My favorite of these scene-stealing sideshows included the shelling antics of a hundred trained squirrels in the factory’s nut room.
When one of the spoiled girls decides she absolutely must have one of the squirrels and tries to steal it, the rest of the squirrels decide she’s a “bad nut” and haul her away to the same garbage dump where all bad nuts go.
In addition to the joy of showing kids get what they deserve, be it bad or good, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory tastefully explores the source of Wonka’s chocolate obsession and loneliness through childhood flashbacks.
All stones are overturned and mysteries solved in this visually appetizing extravaganza guaranteed to make you want to stop on your way out for the biggest Hershey bar you can find.