Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: You Want Squirrels? Then You Get Burton.

Tim Burke of Easily Distracted doesn’t much like Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Woof, Woof! Zap!

I’ve never seen a filmmaker so capable of getting so many things right and then just colossally miscalculating with horrible plot ideas or stagings that rip the guts out of everything he’s done to that point in the film.

Specifically, Burke hates Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Willie Wonka, and really hates the backstory about Wonka’s dad, the candy-hating dentist.

Well, even through the haze of the icepick behind my right eyeball that is my particular manifestation of a migraine headache, I managed to really enjoy watching this movie yesterday, and I have to disagree with Burke. This is a great film.

No, it’s not sweetly magical like the 1971 version with Gene Wilder. (Note: Burke doesn’t make that comparison. I’m responding here to some other reviews I’ve seen.) It’s darkly comic and grim. But unlike that earlier adaptation, which stylistically was standard kiddie-musical fluff, this is Tim Burton at his insane best, which means you get Vision with a capital V.

With a few prominent exceptions (mainly, the aforementioned treatment of Wonka’s character), the movie is heart-breakingly true to the book, in ways that the 1971 movie wholly missed. Which isn’t surprising, in that screenwriter John August was a childhood fan of the book who somehow had never seen the 1971 version when he was approached to do the screenplay, and who was stopped by Burton from seeing the earlier film specifically so that his approach wouldn’t be tainted by the earlier movie’s choices.

Anyway, as with Peter Jackson & Co.’s changes to The Two Towers, I don’t think it’s fair to criticize Burton and August for fleshing out Wonka’s character, because we didn’t see the movie that would have been produced had they failed to make those changes. It’s all well and good to lament that a favorite book has (gasp!) been changed on its way to the screen, but movies have a different artistic imperative than books do. If this movie had the unchanging, wryly omniscient Wonka of Roald Dahl’s book, Burke might have left the theater vaguely appreciative of the adaptation’s faithfulness, but fundamentally dissatisfied by the character’s failure to connect with him on an emotional level.

In any event, such scenarios must remain hypothetical, because this was Tim Burton’s movie, to deliver as he chose, and deliver he has. At the core of Dahl’s book are the darkly sadistic punishments that Charlie’s four awful companions bring upon themselves. When depicting those fates, the 1971 movie gave us cute. They replaced Veruca Salt’s frankly-unfilmable manhandling by nut-shelling squirrels with the much-tamer golden-egg-laying geese.

But for Tim Burton, ‘unfilmable’ isn’t a warning. It’s a challenge. And Veruca’s on-screen fate in this film is a childhood nightmare made real: at once hilarious and horrifying. As are the catastrophes that befall each of the other naughty children.

Tim Burton\'s squirrels prepare to deal with Veruca Salt

Yes, it’s a Tim Burton movie, with all the pluses and minuses that go along with that. For myself, I give the nod to the pluses. Thumbs way up.

4 Responses to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: You Want Squirrels? Then You Get Burton.”

  1. ethan-p Says:

    Damn…that’ll be a cool movie. I don’t think that I’ll see it on the big screen (I rarely do…maybe once every 18 months), but I’d love to check it out at home. Serenity, OTOH, which I will see on at the theater opens in 71 days.

  2. adam_blust Says:

    Loved this movie. And I’m perhaps the one person in all creation who isn’t a fan of the original movie. I thought Gene Wilder was creepy in a much more disturbing way than Johnny Depp. (I want to see the older movie again, though, and read the book again, just to see how these memories hold up.)

  3. ethan-p Says:

    Wasn’t Gene Wilder’s Wonka supposed to be a little creepy in the first one? Perhaps it’s my modern cynicism, but when I see movies with a super-innocent kid and a guy like Wilder’s Wonka…it just reeks of pedophilia.

  4. Rise Against Says:

    Ya man, I got the same creepy feeling from Wilder when I was a kid. I would like to see that original again as well.

    This new version looks “trippy” for lack of a better term. Gotta find some shrooms.

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