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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), a nice boy from a nice but impoverished family, lives next door to a chocolate factory owned by Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp), who is, to understate, eccentric. Willy had fired all his employees, including Charlie’s grandfather, Grandpa Joe (David Kelly), closed the factory to outsiders, but continued to make chocolate.

One day Willy decides to open the factory to outsiders for one day, so he puts a Golden Ticket inside five chocolate bars and includes them in the bars going around the world. As luck would have it, Charlie gets the fifth, and last, ticket.

What follows is Charlie’s tour of the incredible factory in glorious primary colors, the quality of which has rarely been seen since the days of three-strip Technicolor which ended in the ‘50s. Willy’s factory is full of things like chocolate rivers, sugary, edible plants, squirrels who inspect the nuts, and such. Said Kelly, “The sets are wonderful – hand-painted, handmade, the kind you rarely see anymore. Going to work every day was endlessly jaw-dropping and magical.”

Willy’s factory workers are some kind of creatures he found in a far-off land and imported to work for him. Called the Oompa-Loompas, they are 30 inches tall, and all are played by Deep Roy, who is 60 inches tall. There are dozens of them. Duplicate, but individual, Oompa-Loompas were created using motion and facial capture technology. Roy went through months of choreography, for each character. While it might look computer generated, it’s not. They are all Roy, although 15 puppets were also created and used.

Even more amazing, 40 squirrels were trained to work with the nuts. What is seen on the screen is a combination of live squirrels with CGI squirrels. The shots of squirrels on stools were computer generated. When the squirrels are on the floor, they are actual animals. In addition, there were 12 animatronic models created and used

Whatever couldn’t be done naturally was accomplished by an integration of advanced motion capture technology and CGI by Visual Effects Supervisor Nick Davis and Production Designer Alex McDowell. They are responsible for the amazing world inside the factory, the glass elevator, and the other effects.

The four other holders of winning tickets are all hateful little kids. Willy has said that at the end of the day he will pick one of the five for a special reward. By the end, all the hateful kids had had something bad happen to them, eliminating them from the competition, so Charlie is the only one left.

Director Tim Burton has pulled out all the stops in making this a special treat. This is truly one movie that can be enjoyed by adults as well as children, thanks, mainly, to exceptional performances by 12-year-old Highmore and Johnny Depp. Depp is like Russell Crowe in that he always seems to be different from what he was previously. You don’t go to Depp and Crowe movies to see someone you’ve seen before, like you do with Cary Grant and Clark Gable and Paul Newman and Robert Redford and Tom Cruise. Each time, it seems, Crowe and Depp are someone completely different. Here Depp is an ingenuous (or is he disingenuous?) creature who is the product of his growing up with a father, a dentist, Dr. Wonka (Christopher Lee) who, although he loved him, never showed the love. Dr. Wonka raised him quite strictly, denying him the sugar he wanted to eat because the doc wanted to preserve Willy’s exceptional teeth. Willy is a damaged character. Coming in contact with a truly good, undamaged Charlie changes Willy’s life.

As with all fables, there are some violent scenes here that could frighten children. But children have been frightened by fables since the Brothers Grimm perfected the genre, and it was upgraded by Disney with things like “Bambi” (1942) and some of his other full length cartoons. Although Willy seems innocent, his troubled past clouds his life. His exposure to Charlie helps him to come to grips with it.

The best thing about this movie is the moral. Charlie is a good boy who does the right thing. And it rubs off on Willy, too. This is like a movie from the good old days of Hollywood where the good guy wins, the bad guys lose, and there’s an uplifting moral.

I have to say that I squirmed and looked at my watch often. However, because I think that was more my mood than the movie, I have not allowed it to influence my rating of the film. It’s an uplifting ride with many humorous moments.

July 12, 2005