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Charlie And The Chocolate Factory review

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
PGcertificate PG
Running time: 115 minutes
Starring: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Deep Roy, Christopher Lee, James Fox, Missi Pyle
Rating 9 out of 10
In Johnny Depp, Tim Burton found an actor who perfectly captured the dark, quirky tone the director sought for his films. Never has the pairing (Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is their fourth collaboration) been more successful. Depp is utterly wonderful in the role of the eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka. In Pirates Of The Caribbean, Depp modeled his performance of Jack Sparrow on Keith Richards. For his mischievous, childlike depiction of Wonka, he blends a pinch of Pee Wee Herman, a dash of Andy Warhol and the palid features of Michael Jackson to create an enchanting and memorable character.

Depp's performance alone is worth the price of admission, but when combined with Burton's idiosyncratic vision, Roald Dahl's cherished story and a strong supporting cast, headed by the adorable Freddie Highmore as Charlie Bucket, then Charlie And The Chocolate Factory becomes an irresistible treat.

Technology has come along way since Dahl's book was first adapted for the screen in 1971 with Gene Wilder playing Willy Wonka. Even the author, who died in 1990, would have marveled at the wondrous world Burton has created. Everything, from the ramshackle home of the Bucket family to the magical factory with its river of chocolate, has been conjured from a combination of a vivid imagination, fantastical sets and marvelous FX. The latter, Burton using only when no other alterative was available. It's why he had dozens of squirrels trained to perform difficult tasks but used just one actor (Deep Roy) to play all the Oompa Loompas.

"This is a story of an ordinary boy," states the opening voice-over. And although Charlie may be ordinary, it's immediately clear that where he lives is anything but. His poverty struck family is crammed into a dilapidated shack that leans at a gravity-defying angle. Despite their circumstance they are impossibly upbeat, a trait exemplified by young Charlie. The young boy's obsession with the nearby chocolate factory where his grandfather (David Kelly) once worked reaches a climax when he finds one of the five lucky golden tickets offering a tour of the premises which have remained closed to outsiders for 15 years.

The four other winners are loathsome, spoilt brats who are accompanied on the tour, given by the normally reclusive Wonka, by their equally obnoxious parents. "Enjoy yourselves, but don't touch," commands Wonka who clearly has little patience or affinity with the children. There is something a little perverse in a children's story in which most of the youngsters are so loathsome. It's certainly a feature Burton and screenwriter John August exploit to the full, particularly in the creative punishments that befall those who misbehave. Indeed, there is a sinister undercurrent to much of the film, one that perhaps borders on inappropriate with the inclusion of a spoof on the shower sequence from Hitchcock's Psycho.

The story's darker shades, most of which stem from Wonka's loveless upbringing at the hands of a strict father (Christopher Lee), are no doubt what attracted Burton in the first place. There are also some very touching moments involving Willy and Charlie, not to mention some hysterical ones, mostly courtesy of Depp whose expressive delivery solicits a laugh from even the most offhand comment.

When done well, children's films have the ability to captivate the imagination of old and young alike, distilling life into its most essential and simplistic elements. With the collective genius of Burton, Depp and Dahl, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory does that in the most inspired and enjoyable way possible.

Kevin Murphy

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