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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

By Harry Forbes
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- No, this isn't some tired rehash of the 1971 cult favorite "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," but Tim Burton's hugely inventive rethinking of writer Roald Dahl's original work.

Entertaining and stylish, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (Warner Bros.) reverts to the 1964 book's title, putting the emphasis on the central child of the story, sweet-natured young Charlie Bucket, played by Freddie Highmore. You may recall how good he was in "Finding Neverland," particularly in the touching final bench scene with Johnny Depp, who here stars as Willy Wonka, the eccentric candy-maker.

The impoverished Charlie, who lives with his parents (his dad's been laid off from the toothpaste factory) and grandparents in cozy squalor, longs to be one of the five winners who will spend a magical day at the mysterious emporium, run by the reclusive Wonka.

Charlie's grandfather Joe (David Kelly), in fact, once worked for Wonka, who, after some dishonest employees began stealing his secret recipes, decided to dispense with all the locals, and hire natives from far-off Loompaland instead.

Four totally obnoxious children win the prize tickets hidden in chocolate bars: a grossly overweight boy from Germany (Philip Wiegratz); a spoiled-rotten English girl (Julia Winter); a fiercely ambitious karate-proficient, gum-chewing Southern tyke (AnnaSophia Robb); and a mean-spirited video-game addict (Jordan Fry). Each chaperoned by one adult, they come to the factory on the appointed day.

And so does Charlie who wins the last ticket when he finds money in the street and is able to buy a chocolate bar -- after, courtesy of his family's limited income, his first two attempts to buy one fail. He brings his dotty grandfather along.

At the factory, they're met by Wonka, a pale-faced, longhaired man-boy with "issues," chiefly generated by memories of his autocratic dentist father (Christopher Lee), who deprived him of sweets as a child.

As the children and the parents are guided by Wonka through the Oz-like wonders of the factory, each child reveals his or her selfish nature, and meets the (nonfatal) fate they deserve, each comeuppance accompanied by a musical number, lyrics by the late Dahl. Thus, the fat boy falls into a lake of melted chocolate; the blond overachiever insists on chewing the newly invented gum that gives the sensation of eating a full meal, and blows up to gigantic proportions; the spoiled girl demands a pet squirrel when she sees Wonka's battery of walnut-cracking critters, who drag her to the trash-heap chute; and the video nerd puts himself in a particle-transporting machine, and emerges a pint-size version of his former self.

All of these are treated comically, and are not as gruesome as they sound on paper, though some youngsters might have a problem with the attacking squirrels.

The Oompa-Loompa workers are all played by the actor named Deep Roy, digitized into legions, whose omnipresent face becomes a bit tiresome after a while.

Some of the choreography is pretty funny, including a Busby Berkeley homage, Oompa-Loompa-style. The contemporary-sounding music is quite different than "The Candy Man" and other bouncy Anthony Newley-Leslie Bricusse songs heard in the last go-round.

Overall, director Burton's take on the Dahl tale is predictably darker than the last version, and combines Dickensian atmospherics (though the setting is contemporary) with mordant wit. Danny Elfman's pounding and ominous score of the credits signals the different tone of the remake.

There are many memorable sequences, such as Wonka's elaborate chocolate palace built for an Indian prince that melts during the hot weather. There are subtle and obvious riffs on everything from the saccharine Disney "Small World" exhibit to Munchkinland to, most brilliantly, a hilarious takeoff on Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Quite unlike 1971's Gene Wilder, the remarkable Depp gives an understated, slyly droll performance and seems, at times, to be sending up Michael Jackson's Neverland persona. But all the actors are first-rate, including Helena Bonham Carter and Noah Taylor as Charlie's mom and dad, and the other kids' parents: James Fox, Missi Pyle and Adam Godley, among them. Geoffrey Holder provides the wooly narration.

The film contains positive messages about family, loyalty, unselfishness, and only a few scenes of tongue-in-cheek peril that might upset the very youngest viewers. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested.

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Forbes is director of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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