Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I had a bad feeling when I entered the cinema for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; not only were there children in the audience but the staff had run out of tea, which meant I’d had to have some sort of sickly fruit drink instead. It’s as if nobody warned them I was coming.

So, ok, technically I suppose it’s a film for children so I should expect there to be some children in the audience, but really — running out of tea? Surely I’m the only one who ever buys the stuff in the first place, so how could they run out? Who else in Oxford is drinking tea at the cinema? Do I have a nemesis — someone watching the same films as me, except always going to an earlier showing? Or perhaps I have a Tyler Durden-style alter ego, and when I think I’m sleeping I’m actually out watching, I don’t know, The Wedding Crashers or somesuch. It would at least explain why I’m so tired these days.

Anyway, despite the lack of tea, I still enjoyed myself. I’ve always been a big fan of both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp and had been looking forward to this adaptation of one of my favourite childhood stories — the story of a sinister and reclusive white man who, after causing an economic crisis within a small town by creating mass redundancies, replaces his workers with a race of malnourished immigrants who he keeps locked inside his factory and pays them in beans; the story of a man who invites children inside his factory and then casually stands by and watches as nearly all of them are gruesomely disfigured due to his total disregard of health and safety regulations.

Good, clean, family fun.

For the most part, I quite enjoyed this film. It’s recognisably Tim Burton (though seems a little sterile in places, a little lacking in typical Burtonesque wonder) and Johnny Depp is far more disturbing than Gene Wilder ever was, appearing at some times to be on the verge of hysterics and at other times completely in control of the situation — usually when one of the children is about to meet their fate. It’s a great performance with a lot of subtlety — lots of knowing glances and strange half-smiles, and just the right amount of perversity.

The children are all excellent. A film can be so easily ruined by irritating bad child actors (cf. The Phantom Menance, War of the Worlds) but here they’re just spot on and perfectly cast, particularly Veruca Salt who switches between sweet smiles and vicious glares with ease, and Mike Teevee, who is angry and obnoxious in just that way all small boys are. Their parents, too, are completely believable — and entirely unlikeable.

Charlie Bucket, being completely innocent and entirely good is of course utterly boring. But, you know, he plays it well.

I blame The Road to Perdition

Burton introduces a sub-plot regarding Wonka’s troubled relationship with his own father, because any film made in America these days must have some sort of troubled father-son relationship; I think there’s some sort of law or charter about this. Actually, wasn’t Big Fish essentially just a story about a father-son relationship as well? I think Tim Burton has some issues that he needs to work through. Anyway, it’s a little unneccessary and schmaltzy but never mind; Christopher Lee plays the father in his usual way and there’s another convincing child actor playing the young Wonka. Besides, I can forgive the whole plot thanks to the inclusion of the hilarious ‘Flags of the World’ gag. Trust me, you’ll laugh out loud.

It is a funny film — in places. Despite Depp’s best efforts a lot of the jokes felt a bit flat and uncomfortable, delivered in silence and accompanied by awkward looks and shuffling feet.

I am now about to write seriously about Oompa-Loompas. Please indulge me.

The one thing I really didn’t like about this film was the Oompa-Loompas; they just don’t work here; they’re not scary, not funny, not entertaining. Part of the problem is the songs — the sinister, simple songs from the original film are replaced here by Big Band jazz-funk fusions, and although four out of five of them are actually written by Roald Dahl the lyrics are often lost amidst the dancing, lights, bright PVC suits and thumping music. The Oompas themselves are (for no real reason) played by one man, appearing many times on film thanks to The Magic of Cinema. Mostly he just looks vaguely constipated, but I suppose if you’re playing a character that’s paid in cacoa beans this is to be expected.

That’s it, I’m done.

So, I liked it, mostly. I wouldn’t mind seeing it again, in fact, which may be as close to a ringing endorsement as I’ve come lately (I might bring along a flask full of tea next time, though, just in case).

The next film I write about will probably be 9 Songs or The Machinist or something, just to remind you that I am actually an adult capable of enjoying adult media. Or it might just be the film version of The Magic Roundabout — it all depends on my mood.