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Movie Review ***

Charlie and the Choco — What the Hell?!

By Bill Andrews

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Directed by Tim Burton

Screenplay by John August

Based on the book by Roald Dahl

Starring Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, and Deep Roy

Rated PG

Weird — that’s the the most succinct review possible for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Tim Burton’s adaptation (decidedly not a remake of the 1971 adaptation) of the book by Roald Dahl. If you’re looking for a weird movie (such as “I Heart Huckabees,” “Amelie,” or “Big Fish”), you can’t go wrong with “Charlie.” If, however, you prefer serious, logical, realistic films, look elsewhere. And if you’re open-minded, you’ll probably like it, but not as much as I did. I’m kind of weird too, you see.

I’ll admit, I went into the theater with slightly more than just an open mind. I’m a big fan of Tim Burton’s and Johnny Depp’s works, both individual and joint. As I started to eat my popcorn, I silently prayed for “Charlie” to be good: a little more “Edward Scissorhands” and a little less “Planet of the Apes.” But at the same time, I really like the ’71 version starring Gene Wilder; for many of us Wilder is Willy Wonka. (“Hey, who’s that guy playing The Waco Kid?” “Oh, that’s Willy Wonka.”) How would Johnny Depp’s Wonka compare? And what about all the songs — “The Candy Man,” “Pure Imagination,” and the like — missing from Burton’s version? How can Willy Wonka not sing? I wanted the movie to be good, and it was. But it was also quite strange.

Take the main man, the chairman chocolatier, the confectionery king, Willy Wonka himself. Bearing an unfortunate resemblance to Michael Jackson, Depp’s character often comes close to scaring both the on-screen children and the audience. Randomly, he says, “Everything in this room is eatable. I’m eatable, but that, my children, would be called cannibalism, and it is frowned upon in most societies.” For the most part, though, Wonka is simply shy and nervous around children, and only scary enough to be eccentric — an interesting guy to have on your AIM buddy list, but not to actually hang out with. Johnny Depp clearly enjoys himself throughout the movie, usually only slightly more than we do.

The children also contribute to the weirdness. Wonka invites five children to his factory by hiding golden tickets in random chocolate bars. The children, each bringing a family member of their choice, visit the factory, only to be punished in ironic ways according to their flaws: the glutton almost drowns in chocolate, the arrogant know-it-all shrinks to the size he makes others feel, the elitist rich girl is thrown out with the garbage, and the overly-competitive gum-chewer is … turned into a blueberry. It’s like Dante with chocolate. And, of course, Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) inherits the factory, because he’s perfect. But all of them, including Charlie, are pale to the point of being pallid, and each really seems to dig his flaw. That’s fine, of course — why not enjoy what you’re bad at? It’s just strange to see anyone so young really enjoy being bad.

Strangeness aside, composer Danny Elfman rocks. My girlfriend insists that John Williams, and only John Williams, is The Man when it comes to film music, but I think Elfman’s up there. His soundtrack for this movie is superb; in fact, I gave the movie that last half star for the music. The Oompa Loompas’ songs, each composed in a different style, are all fun to hear (once you get past the fact that they’re not singing “Oompa Loompa Doopity Doo”). The lyrics are Dahl’s own, and the rest pure Elfman, matching both the anything-can-happen atmosphere and the goofiness of dancing little people. The ambient music was also absolutely perfect, adding to the suspense of some scenes, the fun of others, and the quirkiness of almost all the rest.

But, as I’m sure you all wonder, how does it compare to the ’71 version? Unfortunately, I just can’t say; their styles differ too much — it’d be like wondering if chocolate is better than peanut butter. The newer one stays much closer to the book, though my girlfriend and I both felt that Wilder’s Wonka was closer to what Dahl had imagined for the character. The basic story is the same for both, with most differences at the end and with Wonka himself (namely his back story). In the most superficial of comparisons, I found the ’71 version too saccharine and the ’05 version sometimes weird for weirdness’s own sake. Either way, though, you have naughty kids getting their just desserts, a good kid rewarded with a happy ending, and lots and lots of chocolate. Talk about a win-win situation.