Many years ago, the factory gates of the Chocolate Factory were closed for what its owner claimed would be the final time. He was Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) and he had become famous across the globe for his exquisite chocolate and confectionary products, the best around or at least until jealous rivals sent spies into his premises to steal his secrets. For that reason, nobody would now be allowed in or out of the huge company although it continued to produce merchandise, making the world fascinated about what was really going on in there. And one of those who had grown up with the legends of Wonka was little Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore)...
The famed Roald Dahl story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, probably the most beloved children's book he ever wrote, had already been adapted for the big screen back in the early seventies and although the author hated the results, it went on to be a bona fide cult family movie, with generations watching it on television and captivated - even unsettled - by its particular strangeness. But as with seemingly everything in movie form from the past that anyone had any memory of at all, it was time for a remake come 2005, and Tim Burton was the director hired to bring it to life, seemingly an obvious choice after his track record.
Accompanying him was Depp, his frequent leading man, and the thought of one filmmaker known for his fantastical imagination and one star well regarded for his delight in eccentric characterisation, audiences couldn't get enough of. However, when this finally arrived, it wasn't a complete disaster but then again it wasn't a runaway success either, certainly not artistically, and much of that was down to the two friends' conception of the most important character in their story. As in the book, Wonka was a mystery man for much of the first half, but for reasons best known to themselves Burton, Depp and their writers chose to blow all that by giving him what's known as a backstory.
An utterly unnecessary one at that, leaving the Gene Wilder incarnation preferable by far as he never felt as if he were pandering to audience expectations of wackiness, quite the opposite in fact. Depp was to be commended for not going the obvious route, and there were points where he could raise a laugh, but be was never ominous or unknowable as Wilder had been, simply weird for its own sake. It was a pity, because much of what led up to his introduction was very promising as Wonka hides prize-winning Golden Tickets in five of his chocolate bars and they are claimed by four of the most obnoxious kids Dahl ever thought up. Usually the chief antagonism in his children's books was decent kids versus obnoxious adults, but this one was notably different.
So as on the page, we were invited to cheer along as the horrendous tykes got their just desserts for being so ill-mannered, like something out of a nineteenth century "improving" picture book, as all the while the well-behaved and grave-faced Charlie, accompanied by ex-employee Grandpa Joe (David Kelly), moved closer to his reward. This was certainly colourful, and Deep Roy as every one of the Oompa Loompas was a nice touch, but curiously for a fantasy it never felt real enough, as if we knew if was all play and an act, everyone was just kidding really. Not helping was the addition to the book that lumbered Wonka with daddy issues; it was always nice to see Christopher Lee, but his role as the confectioner's dentist father could easily have been left out, and scuppered the intended triumph of the ending. It was telling the funniest moment occurred when the winners are invited through the gates to be greeted with a truly wonky display. That hit the right note, but everything else was too sugarcoated. Music and songs by Danny Elfman (who sings them too).
American director, producer and writer, frequently of Gothic flavoured fantasy who has acquired a cult following in spite of the huge mainstream success of many of his projects. He began as an animator at Disney, who allowed him to work on his own projects while animating the likes of The Fox and the Hound, which garnered the attention of Paul Reubens to direct Pee Wee's Big Adventure.