Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

The husband and I went to see the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie last night. Both of us went with very low expectations, just figuring it would be nice to get out of the house and have some popcorn.

The opening sequence completely won me over. Fantastic in both senses of the word. Great music, fast-paced sequence of… chocolate bars in production. Yeah, “chocolate bars in production” doesn’t really sound like a fantastic opening sequence, but it really is.

I wasn’t expecting Johnny Depp to top Gene Wilder as Wonka. I don’t really know much about Depp or his work, but the movie ads made him seem tame and smooth, so I was expecting a boring performance. Again, I was surprised to really like Depp’s performance. I liked his quirky facial expressions, his quirky vocal delivery, his use of notecards, and his delight at the Oompa-Loompa songs and the just consequences that fell on the nasty children.

He reminded me so much of whoever did the voice of the Emperor in The Emperor’s New Groove that I wondered if he had done that role too. (Nope; it was David Spade.) Folks have compared his Wonka to Michael Jackson, which never even occurred to me. Of course people are also comparing him to Wilder. Of the reviews and other sites I browsed, it seemed most people think this new movie is darker and has an edgier, more disturbing Wonka. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen the 1971 version, but I remember thinking Wilder was very disturbing indeed, especially in the boat scene when he recites that poem about “trouble must be growing.” In comparison, I thought Depp was rather light-hearted — weird, yes, but not evil, just childish.

All the kids and parents (and grandparents) were great.

The use of the monolith from 2001 was amusing, as were the 80s rock and Beatle-inspired bits by the Oompa-Loompas. I’m glad they sang the poems from the book, but I wish they had either enunciated more or provided subtitles or captions; it was hard to understand more than a handful of lyrics.

Speaking of Oompa-Loompas: I wonder what kind of criticism the movie will get for using a darker-skinned guy to play these workers. (Yeah, one guy, multiplied via CGI; I didn’t even notice that they were all really identical, and not just similar.) The original book was criticized for making them African pygmies; a revised version made them little long-haired white folks, and the 1971 movie made them orange-skinned and green-haired.

I’m not really pleased with the addition of Wonka’s backstory, in the form of an overly restrictive dentist father. I suppose it was a sensible addition, and Christopher Lee played the part well, but I’m not convinced it was necessary.

What I really disliked, though, was the elimination of Charlie’s disobedience. In this movie, he’s sinless; he never once disobeys Wonka or shows any selfishness at all. In fact, he’s the redeemer, bringing Wonka into healthier family relationships. In the book and the previous movie, he disobeys once, tasting the fizzy lifting drinks (and nearly getting killed in a large fan). In the previous movie, he’s redeemed by honesty, returning the everlasting gobstopper. Hmmm… is it better to show Charlie earning a redemption by works, like the 1971 movie, or to show Charlie as a sinless redeemer?

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