Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (PG)

Charlie and the dream factory

In the case of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it looks at first sight as if Tim Burton has an even harder job on his hands. His version is up against not only the Roald Dahl Ur-text, but the 1971 film directed by Mel Stuart.

The fondness many people have for the earlier film has always been a puzzle to me - Stuart invests the setting and story with a sticky, gloopy sweetness utterly alien to Dahl's sensibility (the secret of chocolate-making, Willy Wonka emphasises, is to keep it light and frothy). In particular, I can't bear the Oompa-Loompas: what in the book is a dignified, mysterious pygmy tribe was converted, in a fit of what was presumably taken for racial awareness, into a gang of fat little men whose faces are pancaked with primary-coloured make-up and whose hair is sprayed into rococo curlicues. I suppose nostalgia covers many sins.

Burton's version gets off to a slightly shaky start - the credits roll over footage of an assembly line on which chocolate is melted, moulded into bars, floated through the air on tiny balloons, and finally wrapped. The machinery is nicely conceived (the wrapping mechanism, in particular, has a spidery menace), but the harsh industrial atmosphere is cloyed by the unnatural, too-smooth gloss that so often comes with computer-generated imagery.

Once the credits are over, though, the camera opens out on to a grim industrial townscape of regimented back-to-backs, with Wonka's chocolate factory louring above them (Hitchcock fans may be reminded of the surreally huge ship docked at the end of a terraced street in Marnie). And at once it is clear that Burton knows exactly what Dahl had in mind; he has grasped that if Willy Wonka's chocolate factory is to seem like a child's wonderful dream, the adult world outside has to be a nightmare. The 1971 film, shot in a sugar-cake Bavaria, got this completely wrong: not to put too fine a point on it, Burton blows that version out of the water.

In terms of plot and structure, the new film sticks very close to the book. This is very sensible: I'm not, to be honest, a big fan of Dahl's, but boy, he knew how to pace a story. In short order we meet the poor but honest Charlie Bucket and his family, learn of the mysteries of Willy Wonka and the factory that works without workers, and hear news of the Golden Tickets, concealed in Wonka chocolate bars, that will allow five lucky children to tour the factory.

The impression that Burton is essentially in harmony with Dahl is confirmed as, one by one, the characters troop on. By and large, he has cast actors notable for physical extremity, or rather extremities: flapping ears, beaky noses, bulging eyes and seamed cheeks and foreheads. Charlie's dad is the wide-mouthed, irrepressibly lovable Noah Taylor; Grandpa Joe is the magnificent Irish actor David Kelly, his face at times shot to look like little more than a patchwork of wrinkles clustered around a vast proboscis; our own Liz Smith is amiably cuckoo as Grandma Georgina. Children, of course, are rarely as interesting to look at, so the nasty brats who win the Golden Tickets are lightly enhanced - obese Augustus Gloop has padding and a CGI gloss on his cheeks; spoilt Veruca Salt has an artificial and unnerving glint in her blue eyes. Among all this grotesquerie, Freddie Highmore's good-hearted Charlie is a triumph of naturalism.

It is only when we arrive at the factory that the film dares to depart from the book in any significant degree - and here is where the film's one big difficulty arises. The problem is, I think, partly one of history: in a post-Jacko era, the reclusive millionaire inviting children into his personal wonderland can never be an entirely wholesome figure, and this awareness colours Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka to a damaging degree. This Wonka is shy almost to sociopathy, and at times more infantile than the children.

For some reason, a good deal of time is given over to flashbacks in which we see how he turned to confectionery as a way of rebelling against an oppressive dentist father. At times, as he morphs from elfin otherworldliness to snapping crocodile ill-temper, Depp is delightful - is he capable of turning in a wholly duff performance? - but as a whole the performance, and the back-story, seem like a mistake.

In the context, this matters surprisingly little. The chocolate factory itself, with its chocolate rivers and edible grass and troops of trained squirrels, is superbly realised. So are the tiny Oompa-Loompas, all personified by a single actor, Deep Roy: not quite what Dahl had in mind, but a good compromise with modern, postcolonial sensibilities - in their lurid plastic jumpsuits, they also look like a gesture of goodwill towards the other film. In its combination of fidelity to its source and wacky visual ideas, Burton's take is a triumph of common sense and imagination - exactly the qualities for which we admire children.

Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father

Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?