Movie Review: Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Okay, first thing I need to tag on is that I'm going to be rambling freely about the movie, so there may well be spoilers in this entry for anyone who doesn't want to be spoiled (mindboggling as the thought might be for as well known of a story as this).
Overall, I'm a little bit disappointed by the movie. Granted, it wasn't a big flop like I'd feared it might be, but I don't feel that it matched the quality of the previous film either. I'm not going to say it's bad and refuse to watch it again, but neither do I feel like running out and rewatching it tomorrow either.
The biggest problem I have with it is that they changed the whole main theme to the story. I mean, sure, the new theme of "family" is a good moral and all, but what the heck was wrong with Roald Dahl's original theme of honesty? And the theme of the child's imagination? That was treated in such a heavy handed manner that I have trouble separating the moral story from the typical Hollywood anti-science/technology spiels.
Along with that tacked-on theme were the tacked-on flashbacks to Wonka's youth. I'm not talking about the flashback to where he discover the Oompa Loompas - that was kinda funny, at least - I'm talking about the flashbacks to kid!Wonka and his relationship to his father and the motivation behind his chocolate mogul-ship. For one thing (and here I agree with another reviewer on the issue), it takes a lot out of the enigma and wierdness of Willy Wonka. For another, it's rather hypocritical since one of the other themes the movie tried to emphasize (though at least this one was rooted in the book) was how every one of the children's vices or virtues were due to (or the fault of) their parents and parenting methods. If those four other kids flunked their test because of bad parenting, and Charlie succeeded in contrast because of a good upbringing, then what does that say about *this* version of Wonka, with his... well, dysfunctional relationship with his parent that gave me the creeps to watch every time they referred or showed it on screen?
I think the movie makers made a mistake trying to "simplify" or "modernize" or "popularize" or whatever the heck they tried to do with the central theme to the story. What, were they afraid that the theme of being honest and unwilling to betray even a stranger for personal gain was a bit too ironic coming out of Hollywood? :p
Anyway, the main theme aside, the other major complaint I have was with the Oompa Loompas and their songs, mostly the latter. Now, I was gratified to see that the Oompa Loompas were no longer the creepy orange-skinned puppets they used to be. But after a while, seeing all the midget clones that they became became a little boring, visually. Actually, it might just be me having bad flashbacks to Attack of the Clones. :p
But my bigger complaint is with the Oompa Loompa songs, or rather, the new music that Mr. Dahl's lyrics were set to... if it could be called music at all. Once again, the attempt to modernize/popularize things was a big mistake. The punk rock music that the songs became was grating to my ears, and it was virtually impossible to make out the lyrics besides the names of the character they was addressing and the rare refrain. I realize that anyone who wonders could probably find the actually lyrics in the book itself, but really, what's the point of having the original song in there at all in lieu of random noise if no one can distinguish it?
However, my two major peeves with the movie aside, I should probably add some of the things I liked about the movie before this turns out to be just a hate-rant. To put it simply, I think the best thing about the movie (aside from the much cooler special effects and sceneries which I was expecting) were the characters. Willy Wonka's parental issues aside, I think this movie did a far better job than the old one to characterize and add dimensions on the characters - and not just Charlie too.
Of course, the characterization of Charlie was the most obvious one I picked up on. I think it's an improvement, and perhaps more faithful to the boy pictured in the book. The old movie always gave me the impression that Charlie was something of a brat... that he had a sort of Harry Potter-ish golden-boy feel to him, if that makes any sense. This movie's Charlie, while sometimes co-opted for a exposition-prompter, had a far more humble and earnest feel to him. It's a pity they dropped the honesty theme for this version, because I think this Charlie would have really made it shine.
I also liked the portrayals of Charlie's family, especially Grandpa George and Grandma Georgina, who despite not being major characters at all, where given a little more depth of characterization. I found Grandma Georgina's antics amusing, and I liked how Grandpa George was the foil for the family's wistful optimism concerning the golden tickets, but still revealed himself something of a romantic at heart. I also love the bit near the (new, with a slight twist to it) ending, where the Buckets show that they can still be proud and carry on with their meager but still emotionally fulfilling existence with just what they can accomplish themselves, without the benefit of Wonka's corporate empire. Now, I know that's not the sort of thing you find in fairy tale endings, which this movie still has, but I think it was a nice touch nonetheless.
Of the other characters, especially the other golden ticket winners, perhaps the only child that didn't get a much deeper characterization was Augustus Goop (possibly because he had the least amount of screen time, and so they didn't bother). Mike Teevee gave me the amusing impression of one of the long-time Rumblers or verteran Chaos-players, with perhaps a dash of Inui's fandom-based data-genius thrown in. And I could even almost feel for his dad, who came across to me as a frazzled working father in a two-working-parents household who didn't have enough time to keep an eye on his kid and made the (very American) mistake of letting the television and the playstation become the child's teacher and friend... which was still somewhat different than the purposefully indulgent parents of the book's Mike Teevee, I suppose.
But my favorites would have to be the two girls, Veruca Salt and Violet Beauregard. The former gives me the very amusing image of a female Draco Malfoy, without the whole pureblood/mudblood thing. She's certainly pampered and willful enough for the role. The latter... well, I'm still *trying* to figure out what kind of vice was it that ruled Violet out from the running. The main thing we see about her is that she's very driven, like her mother. But the thing is, she's also very *capable*, and on top of that, she shows no signs of being anything less than proud and happy with her drive and accomplishments. Even with the gum-chewing... it might be gross for some, but I can't see that it's some kind of horrible character flaw.
Of course, now that I've waxed poetic about my two favorite characters, I have to also mention the scene that sealed my liking of them. When everyone first entered Wonka's factory and was just starting on the tour, and Wonka mentioned that one of the five would be winning an extra special prize from the event, Veruca and Violet, walking side-by-side, both turned to the other as their only recognized rival for said prize (obviously the boys weren't even considered competition :p) and both had these catty and utterly fake smiles on.
Violet: "Let's be friends." *shark grin*
Veruca: "Best friends." *vicious grin*
And then the camera moved away showing them walking along with linked arms.
My imagination ran away from me then and there as to what would happen if those to actually did team up together, say, after the event when they both obviously failed to get Wonka's prize. Oddly, the thought of "take over Hogwarts" randomly flashed into my mind. But then, I suppose I'd have to throw Draco into the mix too. Hm... Draco/Veruca? Heh. :p
Well, that's about it for my strongest reactions to the movie. There were some good stuff to it, where were some bad... There were also two previews that looked kinda interesting, one of which is coming out later this month. But it's another one of the Superhero type movies, in line with The Incredibles except not animated, and we know how well *that* turned out to be, ne?