Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

 This is a film for the holidays, one that adults can happily take all the children, to see and enjoy.

It is forty years or more since Roald Dahl wrote what is his best known children's story, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It is a tale of Charlie Bucket and his family, a very poor family, who live not very far from the Wonka chocolate factory. Grandpa used to work there but was laid off years earlier when rival sweet-makers stole the recipes and put the Wonka factory out of business. However, even though no worker is seen going in or out of the factory, production is again in full swing (and the opening credits have an intriguing montage of chocolate-making, wrapping and labelling).

Well, most people will know that Willy Wonka, the eccentric owner is giving away five golden tickets for special children to visit his factory. Charlie would love to have one and, as everyone guesses, he does find one.

The film sets up the scenes with the Bucket family very nicely, cosily, even though their meals are meagre (cabbage goes best with cabbage), the four grandparents are all crammed and cramped in the one bed and dad loses his job putting tops on tubes of toothpaste. But, the family is very loving and Charlie is a really nice boy.

The other finders of the golden tickets are definitely not nice. We know that they will get their comeuppance (as do the parents who have not educated them well): the greedy boy, the absolutely spoilt girl, the win-at-all-costs girl and the know-it-all boy. The film is definitely serious in reminding us what good children are like and how really awful bad children are.

Once the children begin the factory tour, the screen lightens with bright colours, lots of movement, music and song. The film is continually inventive as it shows Willy Wonka's creative chocolate-making and the design and machines in his factory. There are also some flashbacks (introduced for the film and not in the book) which explain Willy's strange mixture of aloofness and being a showman. His dentist father was severe and unloving - and forbade him all those sweets that would decay his teeth!

The film has been directed by Tim Burton who, for twenty years now, has both mesmerised and enchanted audiences with films that are truly fantastic in both senses of the word. They are really good and they are full of imaginative fantasy. His fans will have their favourites, from Beetlejuice to Ed Wood or Sleepy Hollow. (For me Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish are marvellous stories about storytelling.)

Johnny Depp continues to surprise audiences. He can be an oddball swashbuckling pirate of the Caribbean or he can be the reticent JM Barrie in Finding Neverland. He has created Willy Wonka as a lovable eccentric who makes you laugh but takes a long time to really warm to. His Finding Neverland co-star, Freddie Highmore, shows us that an ideal child can be nice without being nauseatingly goody! Helena Bonham Carter and Noah Taylor are Charlie's parents and, while the film affirms parents, it also offers a great plug for grandparents. David Kelly (who was so entertaining in Waking Ned) is the grandfather who accompanies Charlie on his tour.

Roald Dahl would be pleased with this film. It captures the magical spirit of his imagination. It also captures his vision of goodness, especially for children and family.
LONDON - 3 August 2005 - 570 words

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