Greydanus on "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"

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…

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  • mark

    I’ll forgive all of these people but Pat Robertson has got to go.

  • Anonymous

    Acutally that did sort of stand out to me. But if Quaid hasn’t made mention of his faith before perhaps he was just nervous about whether he was going to offend people (or hurt the marketing of the film) since he hadn’t spoken of this before. Either way I’ll give the benefit of the doubt before I’ll state him wishy washy or something.


  • jasdye

    is anyone else bothered by his universalism? isn’t this pretty much what santana was saying?

  • Anonymous

    Actually it is her nude scenes that got her a letter from Pastor Jack Hayford to stop calling The Church on the Way in Van Nuys “her church” as she was doing before that movie. Or so I’ve been told. Everything I’ve seen of hers though doesn’t reinforce she’s Christian at all to me but that doesn’t always mean anything. Personally I find Quaid’s statements more intriquing then anything I can imagine Russo stating.

  • mark


    Thanks for the info. Talk about having a emotional upheaval. I’ve always enjoyed her work. I felt disappointed when she did the topless scene in Crown. Why is it I feel even worse now for having looked at her than I did then?

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Wish I’d known about that Rookie interview!

    I first heard about Russo’s faith when The Thomas Crown Affair came out six years ago, and there was a big stink over whether Christians should do nude scenes. I wrote about it here. See also Entertainment Weekly and Terry Mattingly on the The Thomas Crown Affair affair.

  • Sara Z.

    I remember Quaid talking about his faith when The Rookie came out. At, he did in an interview with my local affiliate (I lived in San Francisco at the time).

    The added bonus with Dennis is that he’s completely hot.

  • mark

    Rene Russo is known for her faith?

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Yeah, Quaid’s profession of faith came as a complete surprise to me, too, when I interviewed him last Saturday.

    I wonder if he’s been planning on “coming out” with this or something. I did a bit of web-snooping the night before our interview to see if there was anything out there connecting him with Christianity, but I couldn’t find anything, so I just asked him the “family films” questions that my editor and I had discussed beforehand, and near the end of our allotted time, with few questions left on my plate, I tossed out a question about faith just to see if he had anything to say — and suddenly the interview got a little more interesting.

    So interesting, in fact, that I thought I had a scoop — but then I found this Beliefnet story today. My own interview won’t be up for at least another week. Ah well.

    The whole thing makes me wish I’d known about this beforehand, so I could have prioritized those questions and given them the space and attention they deserved. And Quaid actually seemed to be more interested in answering those questions than in answering the standard family-movie questions. I wonder if, given that I was interviewing him for a Christian website, he had expected me to launch into those questions right from the beginning.

    The thing is, we cover pretty much all films as a matter of course, so we don’t always pursue the testimonial angle unless we have good reason to think that we should; in fact, we had hoped to interview Quaid’s co-star, Rene Russo, whose Christian faith has been a matter of public record for years — but she turned out to be sick, and the publicists offered us an interview with Quaid instead. OTOH, I don’t believe covers film so systematically, so if you’re sitting down for an interview with them, it’s practically a given that personal beliefs are going to come up.

  • Shar

    OK, I went to see this one with my preteens, and my daughter who is 11 and heard nothing of the apparent Michael Jackson similarities beforehand, said “he reminded me of Michael Jackson” when we walked out. Now, there you go, we picked up on it not even knowing it might have been intentional. Also, here’s a kid’s review——“that was really strange and weird but really good”—coming from my daughter who read the book, but she actually didn’t like them adding Willy Wonka’s father character, she said it didn’t make sense cause it wasn’t in the book. There you have it, a kid’s opinion, which is usually something I listen to much more than the most seasoned reviewer, after all it’s the kids that the movie is geared towards, isn’t it?

    (By the way, both my kids only liked the first Spy Kids movie, and hated the other two—–so we know they have some insight!!)

    Having stated my kids’ opinion, and reading the reviews AFTER I saw the movie, which I’m glad I did, I personally think Depp SAVED the movie together with the great casting of Charlie (which I think Depp was involved with). I’m a little biased, cause I’m a major Depp fan, but I still think he invented his own interpretation of the Wonka character that far surpassed Wilder’s. He gave it a 21st century twist that kids responded to.

    But I agree that Burton has some major parent issues, too, that were blatantly obvious in this film with the assumptions that Wonka had childhood issues, and if I ever saw Burton, I think I’d probably quote Depp’s Wonka and say “you’re weird”!

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Hmmm, I’d like to think Steve’s line about people “cry[ing] with delight at all the film gets so magically right” at what works in the film was inspired by my own thoughts on the film… :)