Steven D. Greydanus has posted his mixed review of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is enough to make any fan of Roald Dahl’s most beloved novel cry — with delight at all the film gets so magically right, and with frustration that in spite of that the film is still nearly ruined by Burton’s obsessions and a spectacularly miscalculated performance by star Johnny Depp.
No one but Burton could possibly have so perfectly nailed Dahl’s blend of whimsical fantasy and withering comeuppance, or the Dickensian glee and extravagance of its morality-play tableau, with abject poverty and decency lavishly rewarded while excess and surfeit and decadence are mercilessly punished.
And no one but Burton could possibly have thought it would be a good idea to give candymaker extraordinaire Willy Wonka (Depp) unresolved issues from childhood stemming from a traumatic relationship with his dentist father (Christopher Lee!), leaving Wonka unable to say the words “family” or “parents,” and subject to disorienting childhood flashbacks. When the book’s climax and denouement have played out, and the credits should be rolling any minute now, and the film suddenly invents additional obstacles to delay the hero’s reward, then cuts to a scene with the other most prominent character on a psychiatrist’s couch, can there be any doubt that the film has gone off the rails?
And who on earth thought it was a good idea to have Depp play Willy Wonka with deathly pale-grey makeup framed by a black bob? Did anybody but Depp himself think that his portrayal of Wonka as an emotionally stunted, antisocial misfit with a chilly nervous giggle, who delivers lines like “Let’s boogey” and “You’re really weird” as if coining new catchphrases, was an improvement over Dahl’s character? As badly as Gene Wilder botched the role in 1971, this is worse.
Yet take out Wonka, and what’s left is little short of brilliant…