Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore
Take Roald Dahl, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton and melt them all together. What do you get? A dark and milk confection which, if not exactly a box of delights, is a very tasty treat. As Forrest Gump might have said, films “are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get”. Too right.
Young Charlie Bucket (an excellent Freddie Highmore) lives with his parents and four grandparents in a ramshackle house. He dreams of finding one of the five Golden Tickets in one of Willy Wonka's famous chocolate bars. The prize? A tour of the mysterious Wonka's secret factory floor. Of course, Charlie finds one. He and Grandpa Joe are soon on a journey of a lifetime – along with a hatful of hateful brats. But only one kid is promised Wonka's special prize at the end of the day. Mike Teavee, Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop and Violet Beauregarde soon find that Wonka's wonderland is anything but sweet – when you're greedy, spoilt, smart-ass and cynical.
Dahl fans needn't worry. In Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow), we have a Dahl for today and their joint imaginations create a riot of colour, character and comedy. All tinged with the Dahl darkness that kids love. Fans of the Gene Wilder movie will have to juggle loyalty for a fondly remembered film with the joys of Burton's bitter-sweet burlesque. Straight away, he's onto a winner with fantastic sets, the Bucket's off-kilter house hinting at the off-kilter world. And Wonka's factory has rivers of chocolate, edible grass, nut-cracking squirrels and, of course, Oompa-Loompas. Or, one Oompa-Loompa played by Deep Roy and multiplied a hundredfold. Screenwriter John August (Burton's Big Fish) adds childhood backstory for Wonka, but Dahl would have approved.
And never fear, Burton's old pal Depp does a brilliant job. Saddled with a bob-cut hairdo, and a toothy fixed-grin, he plays Wonka as nervously giggly big-kid who's clearly a few chocs short of a box. It shouldn't work, but it does. His comic timing and delivery is spot on. In fact, it's a great cast - Highmore and Depp, together again after Finding Neverland, are given convincing support from all the kids and their ‘parents'. And 76 year old Brit film and tv player David Kelly (Robin's Nest) makes the most of his plum role as Grandpa Joe.
Sadly, the songs, almost without exception, are a misfire. Visually fun but musically off the wall – these heavy and soft rock rip-offs are unlikely to appeal to kids and unsettle the film. Worse, the words are inaudible which, as they're meant to be a jokey commentary on each kid's demise, is a big shame.
Overall, as with any selection box, you won't like everything and it's all a bit rich. But if you're looking for a fun film that all the family will enjoy, well, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is just the Ticket.