The Sweet Taste of Chocolate and Children.
Charlie and The Chocolate Factory
It gives me a warm feeling, deep within the pistons pumping black ichor deep within my chest in the area roughly approximating where a human heart should be, to know that in today’s age of ultra-conservativism, where nearly every form of media is under attack for promoting anti-social behavior, that there still exists a place where child abuse and animal torture are just as accepted as they were the first time a Satanic cult opened a daycare centre in California. And that place is, of course, the children’s story, where grotesque crime and punishment tales have been de rigueur since before the days of Shockheaded Peter and the Brothers Grimm. Now, if only I can pass off my kiddie porn collection as sex-education morality plays, I can get off that FBI watch list I’ve been on since I linked to the Micetrap Records website. There’s no real need to go over the plot of this film, as I tend to gloss over that stuff anyway, plus everyone’s already seen this, the original film, or read the back of the book while waiting for a Grande Gazebo Blend from one of those coffee shops inside Chapters. Written by Roald Dahl, the novel is one of a series of children’s stories that seem appropriate for kids at first but clearly exhibits the kind of violent creepiness most often seen inChristopher Walken films and John Wayne Gacy’s paintings of clowns . Willy Wonka is played by Johnny Depp, a talented actor who has let teen idolatry and early career buzz go so far to his head that he feels the need to play extravagant dandies rather than exhibiting any real range. And, of course, Tim Burton keeps encouraging him. Burton’s been on a little bit of slump recently, one that’s threatening to reveal that his talent lies more in visuals and the creation of hermetically sealed fantasy worlds rather than telling stories, but this film is certainly an improvement over Big Fish and the abysmal Planet of the Apes. Hearkening back to movies like Edward Scissorhands and Beetle Juice, the film obsesses over pastel colors, symmetrical set design, and a childlike awe of technology, coupled with a childlike idiocy when it comes to screenwriting. Every thing in this movie is creepy and weird, much like the original, from the violent and mutilating comeuppance the children receive for having bad parents, to the cow-whipping scene, to Johnny Depp’s interpretation of Wonka as a mildly retarded fop. The kid who plays Charlie, Freddie Highmore, has already clearly been molested by a Johnny Depp character in Finding Neverland, a movie which tried to be touching in the emotional way but ended up being touching in the “don’t tell your mother” kind of way, and he’s got the dark, soulless eyes to prove it. Much like Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning before him, Highmore exhibits a level of precociousness and talent entirely impossible for his age, leading to me to believe that he’s either a special effects composite or part of a Scientologist cloning project. Our portal into Burton’s elaborate fantasy world, Charlie and his family are the only characters in the film that are even remotely normal. All the other children are all shiny and waxy, kind of like Gollum but with regular skin tones, and Wonka himself looks a taller version of the Mad Hatter, only with wilder peyote eyes. Charlie’s family is composed of a bunch of withered old people who look like they smell of sausage and decay, Helena Bonham Carter in a dental appliance, and Noah Taylor, who looks kind of like a goofy Nick Cave more likely to do a pratfall than sing an elaborate piano ballad about crushing your skull with a rock. In an unnecessary and ultimately confusing bit of back story, Willy Wonka also has a family, in the form of a Victorian dentist played by the always terrifying Christopher Lee, who is my favorite actor in the entire world who is not Bruce Campbell. Lee does his best to show nuance and shading in his performance, but he’ll always be Dracula with liver spots, so it’s mainly a lost cause. While the film provides a great deal of visual delight and is admittedly entertaining, it sort of exists in a netherworld between a children’s film and an adult fairy tale, which is exactly the place that Burton’s less successful films tend to occupy. Like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure before it, the film is too strange to appeal to kids, I suspect, and is full of too many stupid sight gags, oddball performances, and, quite frankly, children to be embraced by adults. Unless, of course, you’re one of those adults who trolls the internet looking for children’s sexual education morality plays.