Johnny Depp and Tim Burton have often worked together. Collaborations include Edward Scissorhands (1990), Ed Wood (1994) and Sleepy Hollow (1999). Unlike the union of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, the Depp/Burton marriage seems to have been made in heaven, at least to many moviegoers.
The most common adjective used to describe their films is "quirky." In many of their works, the two artists appear to express a longing for a lost childhood. Burton can turn any story into a dream-like, somewhat gothic fantasy or fairy tale. It’s as if some dark or cruel event that happened in his youth had left him scarred forever. Depp, on the other hand, has shown a preference for eccentric but always amiable characters.
Roald Dahl’s children’s stories make the ideal material for a Depp and Burton movie. His tales tend to be calloused and best described as grim fairy tales. It was interesting to see what Depp and Burton could do with one of Dahl’s most famous stories, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Charlie is a poor little boy who gets to win a Wonka Golden Ticket, which entitles him to a tour of the mysterious factory owned by the equally enigmatic Willie Wonka. There he discovers the unique way Wonka makes his chocolates and encounters the strange persona of Wonka himself. Of course, in true Dahl fashion, the spoiled Golden Ticket-holding brats of the group get their comeuppance in a clever and vindictive manner.
The story was first filmed as a movie musical, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). With Gene Wilder in the title role and wonderful original songs by Leslie Bricusse ("Imagination," "The Candy Man"), the musical was reasonably entertaining. However, the first half, which depicted the international public frenzy regarding Wonka’s Golden Tickets, was much more enjoyable than the factory tour itself. The factory workers, all midgets called "Oompa Lumpas" were quite frightening to look at. Wilder was aloof in the role and his actions were unfathomable.
Strangely, the remake is less contemporary than the musical. The latter was very seventies while the new version seems to have been set in another time, though it’s obviously happening in the present day.
John August’s new screenplay offers more explanation about the Wonka character. Flashbacks of his tormented childhood are shown, if only to show why this chocolate maker is so screwed up.
Yet with Johnny Depp taking over the part, the flashbacks merely serve as a visual aid. Depp’s expertise in conveying troubled personas remains unmatched. As Wonka, he’s less imperious than Wilder. He’s actually delightful throughout, especially with his bizarre look, which he said was inspired by Vogue magazine’s fashion editor Anna Wintour.
Still photos of Depp in character, however, looked disturbing and were reminiscent of Malcolm McDowell’s look in A Clockwork Orange (1971). But watch him make his surprise entrance and you’re assured of another charming performance. You could only root for him when he gets bitchy with his young, contemptuous guests, who could give Joan Collins a run for the money.
Likewise, Burton is less vicious when it comes to chastising the naughtier kids of the bunch. The story also offers another chance for Burton to create another whimsical world. As with his past productions, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a colorful vision.
Of course, the movie wouldn’t have worked without an effective Charlie, and young Freddie Highmore is very sweet and sympathetic in the role. He was Depp’s co-star in Finding Neverland (2004)0—he may well be the third party in the Depp-and-Burton marriage.