Candy doesn’t have to have a point. That’s why it’s candy.
I wrote a bit of this over in Ray’s comments, but I wanted to go into it here for a couple reasons.
One is that I just read a very good article on Roald Dahl in The New Yorker. I didn’t know a lot about him, other than vague rumors about his being a real bastard, and that (my eleven-year-old insists regularly) his first name is pronounced Roo-all, so this was pretty interesting.
Second, I wanted to highly recommend the new film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
[made with ecto]
I was a huge fan of the book. I read it over and over; I can’t quite recall when, but I know it was a period of several years where I wanted to check it out of the library every month.
At that age, I absolutely hated the movie. I hated that they’d fucked up the name, I hated the Oompa-Loompas, I hated the songs. Later, I learned to like the movie a little; Gene Wilder is one of my favorite comic actors of all time, and honestly, there’s some good stuff in the film. Wilder’s performance is funny, wacky and charming. I can’t say I’d ever choose to watch it, but I don’t really dislike it anymore.
So I’ve waited for years to see the book made into a movie. When I heard who was doing it, I was thrilled.
I’m a huge fan of Tim Burton. I can’t say I like everything he’s ever done (Planet of the Apes was a bad idea, and while some disagree, I don’t think much of Batman). But his best work – Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and of course, Nightmare before Christmas – is brilliant and creative. Burton understands how to be both child-like and sinister at the same time, a rare gift in Hollywood.
Then I saw Johnny Depp connected to it, and it got even better. Depp is an amazing performer, and a huge screen presence.
…and then I saw the trailers and had a very bad feeling. The previews scared me. It’s didn’t just look lame, it looked idiotic. Depp’s choice to play Wonka as something like Marilyn Manson meets Michael Jackson seemed incredibly annoying, and the “Willy Wonka” theme song, clearly intended to be annoying, succeed in the wrong way when laid over the preview.
Whomever edited the trailers, I think, didn’t quite grasp what they were selling; contrast this with the trailers for Corpse Bride, where they clearly understand who they’re selling to.
But the reviews came in and I figured, this is sounding like a home run, I gotta go see it. So monday, a hot, sweaty sort of day, I decided, fuck work, I’ll go see a movie.
I can’t say they got exactly the movie I wanted. But you know, that’s how it goes when you care about a book. Lord of the Rings wasn’t exactly the movie I wanted either. But like LotR, they didn’t fuck it up, and they made a good movie. That’s about as good as it gets.
Depp’s Wonka isn’t how I’d have had him play it. But it’s an inspired bit of lunacy, and again shows how good Depp is; I had trouble getting my mind around this guy also being Captain Jack Sparrow or agent Sands from Once Upon a Time in Mexico. His Wonka is damaged, inept, brilliant, child-like in both good and bad ways.
Visually, as you’d expect, the film’s brilliant. The entire experience is like a feast of candy; shiny, bright, complicated, almost overwhelming.
The music is typically clever; someday Elfmann will have to retire and give someone else a chance to get work in Hollywood. The Oompa-Loompa’s songs, in marked contrast to the ’71 film, add, enormously.
This brings us to one of the biggest problems with trying to bring the book to the screen. Dahl’s Oompa-Loompas were some sort of stereotypes little black pygmy natives. While this didn’t seem racist when I was eight or nine, it’s obvious that it plays that way today. I don’t know if Dahl meant it that way, but that’s how it plays. So you have to change them.
In ’71, the solution was to hire dwarves, paint them weird colors, dress them like revolutionary war soldiers, and have them sing bad songs. When I was a kid, this completely ruined the movie for me.
Here, the solution is much more surreal. A single actor, Deep Roy, plays every single Oompa-Loompa in the film, of both genders. Costumed differently in each scene, with odd hair, he renders the Oompa-loompas both funny and sinister without ever being annoying. The dance and musical numbers, all featuring dozens of Deep Roys, are a highlight of the movie.
Often re-makes wind up being nothing but a catalog of current pop-culture jokes; look at Cat in the Hat or the Grinch (or better, don’t); bad, current topical humor that won’t hold up in ten years. Here, while there are a smattering of movie and cultural references, they’re classic bits, like a certain key scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark involving Small-World-like dolls. These are references you have to look for and think about, not references that smack you upside the head.
The cast is excellent. Each child, each parent, all Charlie’s grandparents, Charlie himself, all well cast, funny and/or annoying as needed.
Bottom line – I loved it, and want to go see it again.
Truly, my only real complaint is minor. They decided to give Wonka a back-story involving a dentist father. And while this gets us some of the movie’s most memorable visuals (Young Willy in truly S&M dental headgear trying to eat candy, and Christopher Lee as a dentist, which will give you chills), I found it somewhat intrusive. I understand why they did it; give Depp a little more to do, a little internal conflict, a little depth, and add a little more to the end, I don’t really think it enhanced the film. It does give us one of Willy’s best lines (…I was having a flashback…), but I liked the simple fairly-take ending the book has. But Burton’s the director. He gets to decide. And it’s a nit-pick, truly. I might get used to it, it might not bother me on a second watching.
The end result, though, is that Burton made a movie that doesn’t fail the book in any significant way, and while is simply a good film. Go see it. Don’t wait to find a kid to see it with. It’s really not a kids movie.