The story of Willy Wonka has already been done once, and done right. Still, I was open to the idea of grimly stylized director Tim Burton taking another stab at it, why not. The original, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, is a classic but aside from Gene Wilder's absolutely brilliant performance, there's room for improvement in it. Unfortunately, Burton's take on Roald Dahl's popular children's novel is anything but an upgrade. He misses the mark spectacularly, and he's dragging Johnny Depp down with him.
This version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the story of an eccentric candy man, with really really white teeth. The only thing whiter than his teeth is his skin, I wonder if Wonka and Michael Jackson see the same doctor? But comparisons to Michael Jackson and pedophilia are far too easy in this story of a disturbed psychotic who likes to stand around and watch dancing midgets. The aforementioned mentally challenged Mr. Wonka (Johnny Depp) is the owner of the world's most fantastic candy making factory. No one goes in, and only candy comes out… until one day. Wonka runs a contest, and five children win the chance to tour his factory. Among them is Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), a poverty stricken child of high moral disposition.
Our five contest winners enter Wonka's factory, which is in fact not so much a factory as it is an eternally edible Neverland. The owner, Willy Wonka, is a freak and the employer of musically talented little midgets called Ooompa Loompas (Deep Roy). Things get really weird when the kids start disappearing, and Wonka simply smiles.
The problem is that while screenwriter John August has translated most of the details of Roald Dahl's story he's captured absolutely none of the magic. Instead, the script inexplicably becomes lost in a Freudian exploration of the irrelevant history of Willy Wonka through disjointed flashbacks. I don't care about whether or not Willy hates his father (Christopher Lee), isn't this movie supposed to be about Charlie? It might be forgivable if Willy were actually an interesting character, but Depp's take on him leaves Wonka as something of a statue who stands around looking sick. When he speaks, it's as if he's a robot being run by remote at the hands of an Oompa Loompa with Down's syndrome. He's not just creepy, he's stupid, and none of the genius of the character we've known and loved in book and on film is to be found. Depp is wooden and listless, hiding beneath his top hat as if the outfit alone is enough to sell someone who should be a vibrant and sparkling ringmaster.
By the end of the movie, Burton has completely forgotten about Charlie and the chocolate, and ends up wasting a ridiculous amount of time letting Willy whine about his father. Thank god for those funny little buggers the Oompa Loompas. Their songs are incomprehensible, but they've got killer dance moves. The film is split up and stilted; it's only the promise of more Oompa Loompa that makes it bearable.
Perhaps I'm being a little harsh. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory does have its moments. You'll find a chuckle or two still present in Wonka's world of imagination. For instance, "Don't touch that squirrel's nuts!" is the sort of throwaway line you'll quote for no reason the next morning. Also, when not overusing CGI, Burton still has an undeniably unique visual flair. But though some of the production design may be interesting, it's also static, as the film's characters rarely get around to interacting with it. Scratch that, the fat kid does eat some grass. Mostly though, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a movie about a lot of underdeveloped characters standing around failing to react while reaction worthy things happen around them. Despite a few faint glimmers of fun, the movie is lost lost lost and there's no excusing it.