Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I've decided the very best way to see a film is to go see it under duress. You should be absolutely convinced that you are going to hate every minute of the entire theater experience. In fact you should demand that whoever is going to the theater with you promise to give you back the two hours of your life you are about to waste on the soul destroying remake that, in a perfect, or even vaguely just world, would never have been made. Important safety tip, this method only works if you don't mind admitting you are wrong. If you, like me, actually enjoy finding out you were dead wrong about something then this is far and away the perfect way to partake of something deeply frightening like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The entire Quality Time team was entranced by this movie. From the very first moment we heard the first notes of the Danny Elfman musical score to the very last, we were delighted. I was excpeting a lumbering film groaning and choking on its own psychedelic sweetness, starring Johnny Depp doing his best/worst impression of an insane Michael Jackson but I was wrong and glad I am to say it. What we actually saw was like a Wonka bar itself, dark yet light and frothy, sweet but not too sweet, nutty, but not overpoweringly so, and all wrapped up in a pretty wrapper. Charlie is a beautiful film of visual extremes. The skin of the actors positively glows with polished brilliance. The ugliness of the bad guys, like the nefarious fellow receiving the stolen candy making secrets, reaches new heights in unattractiveness, giving us a man whose exterior seems to match his inner wretchedness. The Oompa Loompas are brimming with vitality, the cunning machinery is charming and beautiful, the Buckets' home is the epitome of tattered and poor and the Buckets themselves are perfect.

For those of you who don't recall, Charlie's last name is Bucket and his tiny home is filled to overflowing with his family. He lives with his brave and cheerful mother, who seemingly can make a head of cabbage go further than the famous loaves and fishes, his hardworking and worried father, who works screwing on the caps in a toothpaste factory and his grandparents. All four grandparents are bed bound and have been for quite some time. There is Grandma Georgina, daft yet dazzlingly hopeful, Grandpa George, cranky and a pessimist, the steadfast Grandma Josephine, and of course beloved Grandpa Joe, who is the closest to Charlie and is the one chosen to accompany Charlie on his magical tour of the chocolate factory.

The theme of family is vital to this version of Charlie and we revisit it over and over through the eyes of Charlie and through the distorted lens of the loopy Mr. Wonka. For Mr. Wonka is loopy. He is plagued by flashbacks and he and his factory seem to be having some problems keeping it together. At one point I found myself thinking, wow, he is really damaged. Yet it's this very damage to his psyche that makes him such an entertaining character. He is extremely funny and has an incredibly sharp tongue. He has no social skills and says whatever comes into his head, no matter how cruel or sarcastic. This is another reason he is so loveable. What child can watch this man and not laugh? Mr. Wonka says all the things that the average person wishes they could say, but always think of too late. When Mr. Wonka hears something that doesn't fit into his world view he rejects it, crying "Mumbler, I can't hear what you are saying!" Mysteriously, every nasty, rotten beast of a child who accompanies him into his factory meets their just end while he does the very least to prevent it. He appears helpless in the face of powers beyond him and you can't quite tell whether he planned it all or it just happened, but either way you know that he is enjoying every moment of it.

Freddie Highmore, as the brave and noble Charlie, is perfect. He looks half starved, like the bones in his face are about to poke through the skin and go off on their own to find something a little more nourishing than watered down cabbage soup. He's extraordinarily touching as he tries to put the good of his family foremost, first when he offers to sell the golden ticket to get some money in the house and then later in the film when he is offered so much more if he will just walk away from his family.

All of the acting in this movie is excellent. In past columns I've had to say so and so isn't very good, or they're stiff and then they warm up but I'm happy to say the acting is spot on all through this film. The awful children are perfectly awful and the dreadful parents are perfectly dreadful. The Oompa Loompas are great fun and their singing and choreography is hilarious. A note to those who read the credits and are confused because author Roald Dahl is dead but still got credit for the lyrics, the lyrics are straight out of the book. He did not return from the dead and help out with the script. At least if he did I didn't hear about it.

In the end I can say that despite my misgivings, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a thoroughly enjoyable film. We had some technical difficulties at our showing because of a violent thunderstorm knocking the power out but we all came out of the theater happy and humming. It's far and away the consistently best film we've seen this year.