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Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Rated PG

Starring: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, and Helena Bonham-Carter

Rating:
**1/2
out of
*****

When I heard that Johnny Depp was going to play the role of Willy Wonka in a new movie version of the old Roald Dahl book, I thought, "That's not a bad idea." I'd heard this shortly after seeing Depp's fantastic performance in Pirates of the Caribbeam: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Now, for many people, the Gene Wilder portrayal in 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is the definitive Willy Wonka. But I have a confession to make. I hadn't seen the 1971 movie until 2003. It wouldn't be that difficult for me to accept Depp as Wonka.

Now, after seeing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I'd have to say that I prefer the 1971 film overall. Yes, I'm aware that it's less faithful to the original book. Yes, it has really annoying musical numbers. But it doesn't try to be weird for weirdness' sake, which is what the newer version seems to do.

For those that don't know the story, here it is in a really condensed form: Charlie (Freddie Highmore) and his family are really poor. He'd like nothing more than to visit the mysterious chocolate factory that dominates the skyline of his hometown. When the mysterious owner of the factory, Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp), announces a contest that will allow 5 children inside, Charle begins a hopeful search for a "golden ticket" that will allow him to enter the gates. Upon finding a ticket, Charlie and four other children -- all of whom are spoiled rotten, unlike Charlie -- are allowed to tour the factory and witness its bizarre contents, including the strange Oompa Loompas and a river of chocolate, complete with a waterfall. But what is the ultimate prize that Wonka promises to one of the children? And who will win it?

Depp's performance, while interesting, is mildly disappointing. In spite of some scenes that attempt to explain the adult Wonka by showing us his childhood conflict with his father, Dr. Wonka (Christopher Lee), we're still left wondering why he seems like a cross between a socially retarded adult and the offspring of acid-dropping parents. Gene Wilder's portrayal made him seem like a madman possessed to make the best candy ever. Depp's Wonka seems to make candy because he can't do anything else.

While it might be unfair to compare the two movies, especially since director Tim Burton has said repeatedly that the new movie is not a remake but a more faithful telling of the Roald Dahl book, I do so because I enjoyed the first movie more despite it being full of dumb songs and hokey effects. It had something that this new movie lacks: charm.

Trivia: Johnny Depp was so impressed with Freddie Highmore's performance in Finding Neverland that he convinced Tim Burton to cast him as Charlie Bucket. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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