Reviews

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

3

It looked like a match made in movie heaven: the twisted prose of children's writer Roald Dahl fused with the delirious imaginings of filmmaker Tim Burton, topped off with the offbeat stylings of his regular leading man Johnny Depp.

"Dahl, Depp and Burton: it's the Three Musketeers!" coos Roald's widow Felicity, openly hostile to the 1971 version of her late husband's 1964 classic, and therefore only too happy to endorse this candy-coated rethink in Different Faces, Different Flavours. And watching the magical prologue - one chocolate bar's conveyor-belted progression through the fantastical innards of Willy Wonka's cavernous factory and into the snowy world outside - it's easy to share her glee.

Not for long, though. Because for all its magical qualities, visual splendour and ceaseless invention, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is never truly scrumptious. Whether resurrecting Batman, remaking Planet Of The Apes or retelling the legend of Sleepy Hollow, Burton is always a little clubfooted when dancing to someone else's tune. And watching him struggle to invigorate Dahl's repetitive narrative, most notably by giving Depp's oddball Wonka a sentimental backstory and a schmaltzy happy ending that undercuts much of the original's gleeful malevolence, you can almost sense the strain between his confined imagination and the unquestioning fidelity he feels he owes the text.

Depp has a different problem: how to make his Willy stand up against Gene Wilder's much-loved portrayal. This he does by going down the creepy route, turning the reclusive genius into a whey-faced, squeaky-voiced dandy that's one part Howard Hughes, nine parts Wacko Jacko. It's a bravura performance, yet a curiously unsatisfying one - a collection of quirks looking for an identity. ("It's an interesting interpretation," opines producer Richard Zanuck with a reticence that speaks volumes.) To his credit, Depp clears up what he was aiming for ("A local children's TV show host").

Still, there's no denying this is a remarkable technical achievement, ably demonstrated here by access-all-areas docs that show Burton's underlings battling to vault the hurdles he sets before them. From getting the right consistency in the chocolate river (which cost £1.20 a gallon) to teaching a bunch of erratic, difficult squirrels to act (see box), it was clearly a logistical nightmare. Not for nothing does composer Danny Elfman compare penning the Oompa Loompas' four musical numbers to something out of Jason And The Argonauts in his seven-minute Sweet Sounds featurette.

Elsewhere, The Fantastic Mr Dahl offers a warm but rose-tinted glimpse into the author's life, complete with poetry readings from granddaughter Sophie and drawings from Quentin Blake, while Becoming An Oompa Loompa details the "torment and torture" endured by multi-tasking mini-man Deep Roy. (He can also be seen in a couple of entertaining Easter Egg animatics that reveal how his Busby Berkeley-style dance routines were accomplished.) It's a pity Burton and Depp couldn't have been nagged to provide a commentary. But then maybe they realised that, when push came to shove, it wasn't really their movie in the first place.

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