Warner Bros. // 2005 // 115 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // October 31st, 2006
Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka, the amazing chocolatier (weeeeee!)
Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka, everybody give a cheer
He's modest, clever, and so smart, he barely can restrain it
With so much generosity, there is no way to contain it, to contain it, to contain...to contain...to contain...
Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka, he's the one that you're about to meet
Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka, he's a genius who just can't be beat
The magician and the chocolate whiz
The best darn guy who ever lived
Willy Wonka, here he is!
Well, leave it to Tim Burton to reinterpret a story whose initial theatrical film was well received and content for about 35 years. And in his reinventing of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," Burton decided to bring in his veteran leading man Johnny Depp (Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands) as Willy Wonka, the amazing chocolatier. So how does Burton's vision of chocolate land look in high definition?
In this film, based on the book of the same name by Roald Dahl and adapted to the screen by John August (Corpse Bride), Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore, Finding Neverland) lives at home with his parents (played by Noah Taylor (Almost Famous) and Helena Bonham Carter (Big Fish) and his grandparents, including Grandpa Joe (David Kelly, Waking Ned). Grandpa Joe once worked for Willy Wonka, who closed his factory to the public years ago. Wonka did make chocolate again, but started to do it rather secretively. All of that changed when he decided to hold a contest where five lucky winners who uncover a golden ticket in a Wonka Bar get a chance to look in his factory.
Cue the five lucky winners, among them are the aspiring Violet Beauregarde (AnnaSophia Robb, Because of Winn Dixie), accompanied by her mother (Missi Pyle, 50 First Dates). The spoiled Veruca Salt (Julia Winter) is accompanied by her father (James Fox, The Remains of the Day). The grouchy Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry, Counter-Fit) is brought along by his father (Adam Godley, Love Actually). The portly German Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz) is brought along by his mother (Franziska Troegner). And after some minor trials and tribulations, Charlie manages to get the final golden ticket and takes Grandpa Joe with him.
Much has been made of Depp's performance in the film, that he's some sort of hermaphroditic cross between Robert Smith of The Cure and Carol Channing. And there are some moments where the Depp version of Wonka does creep out even the strangest of characters. But in comparison, the Gene Wilder version (as portrayed in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) is a little more playful and engaging as a whole, and the Depp version is a little more standoffish, starting from early on when he meets the kids and he just stayed that way, with the exception of a few scenes where he looks more like Hunter Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas more than anyone else.
The best part of the film for me is Highmore and his performance. In between his selflessness and looking out for his family, even after he acquires the much-desired final ticket, he always looks at things with awe and wonder, and in this film, it's a necessity, with Burton's grand sets and visions giving Highmore's face a chance to express how we feel.
Now of course, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory isn't without some modernizations from its 1971 predecessor, and the big thing aside from Depp as Wonka is the songs that the Oompa Loompas sing. Clearly they're ditties that feature more updated musical influences in them, but what people haven't been noticing is just how much more has been incorporated back into the film from Dahl's book. Among the things not seen in the original film are Charlie's dad and the nut room where the squirrels crack the nuts (and where Veruca is thrown into the garbage), both of which transform the story more than one could have imagined.
Overall, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a much more complete and devout version of Dahl's book than one could have expected, and I think that in between this and Burton's stop-motion films Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas he may very well have created his own landscape for family films, where, scary images aside, the emotions resonate tremendously.
I wasn't sure what to expect of the film in high definition, but the 1080p transfer that this HD DVD sports really does make the colors in the factory pop more than the standard definition version. You get a preview of what's to come in the scene where Willy cuts the ribbon to his then-new factory, as the red looks as vivid as possible without bleeding. A comment was made in another review that some of the people look a little bit doll-like with a plastic appearance, and it really shows when you see tight shots of Augustus and Veruca early on. That small issue aside, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory looks pretty solid in high-definition. The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack obviously gives composer Danny Elfman's score a chance to get a work out, but it also does a solid job of making the sound effects clearer and presenting a more dynamic sound environment. Elfman's score is included as an isolated sound option in Dolby TrueHD, but I would have liked to see the options reversed to get a better appreciation for the film.
This title is another in the growing library of Warner HD DVDs that contains the In Movie Experience. However, this experience takes more of a kid-centered approach, with random Oompa Loompas popping in and out of the frame in various angles, and frequent pop up information that is either related to the production or some various cute jokes. But as opposed to other tracks, this one is incredibly slow and doesn't afford you the chance to scroll back and forth. And unfortunately, there's not a lot of grown-up information related to the production that makes it worth watching. They do at least provide the occasional comparison to a storyboard or use of a computer-generated previsualization of some sort, but this is the weakest In Movie Experience to date.
There are a group of extras that are quick hits at various aspects of the film, and they're all satisfactory. "Chocolate Dreams" focuses on the book and story, and what Burton and the other filmmakers wanted to accomplish for this new interpretation. "Different Faces, Different Flavors" covers the cast's first thoughts about the production, their roles and their thoughts on everyone else in the cast, accompanied with some on-set footage. "Designer Chocolate" focuses on the production design for the film, what it took to get the look they wanted, and what the intent of the sets was. "Under the Wrapper" covers the visual effects and previs segments on the film, along with creating all of the chocolate for the film, and overall it shows off what was real and what was styrofoam on the set. "Sweet Sounds" cues Elfman with what Burton suggested to him for the film and what he wound up doing, along with some video of Elfman in the studio putting it all together. "Becoming Oompa Loompas" shows off what tricks were used to get the actor Deep Roy replicated to become a group of tens or hundreds. The visual effects discussed what they had to do to make copies of him, and some very creepy animatronics were made of him as well. "Attack of the Squirrels" shows how squirrels were trained during the Nut Room sequence to attack, crack nuts, what have you. And aside from showing what squirrels were CG, animatronics or real. The scary part is that squirrels had to be trained for some of this stuff. The "Fantastic Mr. Dahl" piece is a biographical look at the author, featuring interviews with Dahl's collaborators and his surviving family members, along with some archived footage of the authors. As far as 20 minute biographical looks at authors go, it's quite topical, but in the context of the disc, this one's not too bad. There's some previs stuff, along with the trailer and a rather bizarre film reel of Oompa Loompas that aired in European Clubs.
The one extra I haven't discussed is the commentary by Burton. One that didn't appear on the standard definition DVD, Burton does talk about why he wanted to do the film, about the set decoration, the cast, crew and thoughts on the Dahl book. Some of the film's influences are discussed (think Village of the Damned and Dr. No), but by and large, the material on the track sounds recycled from the In Movie Experience, and if Burton had Depp to play off of, it would have been a little more special to listen to.
Now, never having read the story, it seems to me that the subplot involving Willy and his father was understandable, but if anything, it seemed to be more of an excuse to give Burton a chance to show off some of his trademark dark goth-like themes and props, if only for a moment. As far as kids films go, if this part of the film was exorcised from the final cut, it would have been even better for my money.
Even though there may be some creepy points of the film that could possibly scare the kids, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory still provides a better, more complete experience than its predecessor, blasphemy aside. The star of the film is the story, and even with Depp's performance, it's Highmore that steals the show, and this may be the best Burton film yet.
The court finds the defendants not guilty, provided they tell the court where to find that really cool glass elevator. Bring in the next case.
Review content copyright © 2006 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* In Movie Experience with Cast and Crew Members
* Commentary by Tim Burton
* "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" Featurette
* "Different Faces, Different Flavors" Featurette
* "Designer Chocolate" Featurette
* "Under the Wrapper" Featurette
* "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Sweet Sounds" Featurette
* "Becoming Oompa-Loompa" Featurette
* "Attack of the Squirrels" Featurette
* "Fantastic Mr. Dahl" Featurette
* Dolby True HD Music-Only Track
* European Club Reel
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* Official Site
* Roald Dahl Official Site
* Roald Dahl Fans
* Wonka Facts Mega-Site