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"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"

Directed by Tim Burton.
Written by John August.  Based on the novel by Roald Dahl.
Starring Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, Helena Bonham Carter and Christopher Lee.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  7/25/05


Tim Burton really has been hit-or-miss for me ever since I saw "Batman" more than 15 years ago; sometimes I really love his stuff, like "Ed Wood" or "Big Fish"...and sometimes, I don't know what is happening or what he was thinking when he signed on, most famously with "Planet of the Apes" but also with films like "Mars Attacks!", featuring such a great cast you almost can't believe it's dogshit.

One thing is certain, though--every time he has worked with Johnny Depp, Burton has come up aces.  "Ed Wood", "Sleepy Hollow" and "Edward Scissorhands" are all, to some degree, great movies, and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" fits comfortably amongst those films in terms of style, substance and full-on wackiness.

In this adaptation of the Roald Dahl book--and re-imagining of the Gene Wilder classic "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"--a deprived kid named Charlie (Freddie Highmore, who just appeared with Depp in "Finding Neverland") wins the chance to tour the world-renowned Wonka Chocolate Factory, conveniently located in his hometown.  Charlie wins this opportunity by buying a Wonka chocolate bar that has one of five Golden Tickets scattered throughout the world...and, along with his grandfather and four other kids plus guardians, is allowed to see all that the world's biggest mass production plant has to offer.

The factory, run by one Willy Wonka (Depp), has been closed to the public for 15 years, ever since employees began giving away secrets of the Wonka production success to rival firms.  Wonka has allowed these five special guests to come tour his factory because he will select one of the five kids to receive a special prize...which only reveals itself after the other four kids are...well...

Here is where "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is so great, much as the Wilder film was so great:  it really is quite sinister at times, be it Wonka's clear hatred or misunderstanding or whatever it might be about his interest in children, or later, when the kids begin to disappear at the hands of traps that Wonka has clearly meant to force certain children out of the picture.  This behavior, combined by the strange appearance of everyone's favorite midgets The Oompa Loompas, makes this film a bit scary at times for the young'uns, as evidenced by the number of scared children sitting near me in the theater whenever one of the onscreen kids was swiftly removed from the action.  I was loving this; little Bobby sitting next to me was frightened when the bubble-gum champ (Annasophia Robb, from "Because of Winn-Dixie") started to take on the physical tendencies of a blueberry pie.  The song-and-dance routines only make this worse in some cases; again, I was howling, but this might not be for everyone.

Depp seems to be channeling many of the things that made his Ed Wood rendition so great; the small man with big dreams that doesn't have the greatest sense of the world around him.  Even though it was a familiar role to me, I still enjoyed many of the quips as delivered by Depp and his look is (naturally) a little spooky.  Highmore was better in "Finding Neverland" but he isn't asked to do much more than react to the hijinks taking place around him ; other Burton regulars surface, like Helena Bonham Carter, Christopher Lee (as Willy's dentist daddy) and Missi Pyle, and all do their best play on the word "weird" to marvelous effect.

But the sets are really cool; creating that big chocolate world must have been quite a task, because the end result is what makes "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" so great.  Once the kids get into Wonka's shop, the visuals really take over...and, the kids in my theater were in hog heaven right along with me.  The oohs and aahs that came from just the big opener when everyone walks into the big chocolate garden (complete with edible everything) was cool to listen to; from Willy's magic elevator to the Nut Cracking Room to those spacey sunglasses required in the TV Room late in the film, Burton once again has a visual masterpiece in his grasp.

Good times.  The running time was not too long; love that the Oompa Loompas are all played by one man (Deep Roy, soon to be the Verne Troyer of mini-stars) and that a number of times, you are just kind of freaked out by watching him dance.  Good ending; another great score by Danny Elfman...what can I say?  It's not a classic in the sense that I want to see it over and over again, but while I was there I was pretty pumped.  Why can't all Burton films be this way?

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09