Charlie & The Chocolate Factory

7 out of 10

Roald Dahl's Children's Classic

There are no questions about chocolate, everyone loves it. With such an advantage to start with, Tim Burton, award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter has taken on Roald Dahl novel "Charlie and The Chocolate Factory" and in the gothic, other-worldly spirit of "Edward Scissorhands" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas," has created a dark, quirky, vivid, psychedelic version of this well-loved children's classic.

The only child of poor toothpaste factory workers Mr. and Mrs. Bucket, the irrepressible Charlie lives in a small dilapidated house with his tired parents (played by Helena Bonham Carter and Noah Taylor) and aging grandparents, Grandpa Joe, Grandma Josephine (Eileen Essell), Grandpa George (David Morris) and Grandma Georgina (Liz Smith). After uncovering one of the five winning tickets, he joins his Grandpa Joe on a tour of the factory of the city's infamous reclusive chocolate maker Willy Wonka.

This should have been the perfect children's movie, reuniting the winning team of enigmatic Johnny Depp as the eccentric inventor Willy Wonka and impressive and impish quickly-rising British child actor Freddy Highmore, cast on Depp's own recommendation, as the modest Charlie Bucket. The two had worked previously together in Marc Forster's "Finding Neverland," achieving a list of award nominations and wins at the Oscars. Sadly, although more traditionally portrayed by Wilder in the 1971 version, Depp's childish Howard Hughes style rendition of the chocolate maker with his petulant expressions and odd witty comments is possibly more realistic than Wilder's comically eccentric stereotype, but maybe less appealing to children.

Adeptly rewritten for the big screen by John August whose other work with Burton includes the acclaimed "Big Fish" and clever "Corpse Bride," the script contains a perfect balance of humor and charm and is thankfully entertaining even to those who know the story well. It has also been adapted to include some of Wonka's childhood and in an integral plot twist, allows him, with Charlie's help, to come to terms with his past, adding new depth to Dahl's tale without taking away from the original plot. Sadly, throughout, many scenes are backed with lame and instantly forgettable musical numbers with the Oompa Loompas, all played by creepy Kenyan actor Deep Roy, grafted clumsily onto the action which DO seriously detract from the film.

Outside of clever scripting and story alterations, the visual aspects were incredibly well done. Largely shot at the Compair compressed air factory in Buckinghamshire and on set at Pinewood Studios in London, it features some fitting and impressive cgi, highly-detailed handcrafted sets and intensive special effects shots that give the feel of a glossy, florescent candy-filled wonderland nestled in a dark foreboding European factory town. One common complaint of late is that often cgi can become a substitute for quality, but happily most scenes are compelling enough that the special effects do not play the central role. Scene-by-scene Burton attempted to recreate faithfully several chapters of Dahl's story, including building a waterfall scene containing 244,994 gallons of fake chocolate, 2000 real Nestle chocolate bars and 1000's of other handmade treats plus a real squirrel-filled nut room, the downfall of Veruca Salt and her father. Indeed, the latter scene required six months of training baby squirrels to open nuts over a conveyor belt and took over 10 weeks to film. As natural rivalry triggered constant fights between the proud little creatures; each had to be filmed separately and were afterwards outplaced for homes amongst the film crew and zoos. Unfortunately, with this attention to detail, Burton has missed the wood for the trees, with the visit to the factory consisting of just too few scenes to compose a realistic visit and truly capture the soul of the plant.

As Charlie's beloved Grandpa Joe, David Kelly ("Waking Ned Deviner") was also notable for his comical appearance, if nothing else, which made him perfect for the part. Outside of fantastic performances by Depp, Kelly and Highmore, the cast contains many fine British and American actors, including James Fox and Christopher Lee and also some colourful well-chosen newcomers in the roles of Mike Teevee, Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop and particularly Annasophia Robb ("Because of Winn-Dixie"), who stars as the gum-cracking acrobatic Southern Belle Violet Beauregarde

Although wonderfully innocent and entertaining for both children and adults, by being based on a book intended to be part of a close-knit series, the writer clearly had little idea of how to bring it to a close and is bland and artificial with little connection with the preceding visit.

Not just eye-candy, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a like a box of chocolates, with some magnificent treats and some bland fudges, but on the whole, one that has something that everyone can enjoy.

Some magnificent treats and some bland fudges

Film Critic: Jennifer M Lillies