Something In The Air
A semi-autobiographical drama from director Olivier Assayas set in 1970s Paris
Five children meet the eccentric Willy Wonka and tour his labyrinth of confectionary marvels. It's just a shame their greed gets the better of them.
Children are so often the fount of wisdom in crappy Hollywood films that it's pleasing to see brats gets their comeuppance in this adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel. In Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, spoilt kids of every stripe suffer fitting fates.
Director Tim Burton sticks to his tried-and-tested gothic fairytale aesthetic. The film takes place as if in a snow scene, a bubble that can be shaken into action but is sealed off from the rest of the world. Of the director's previous films, this most resembles his Edward Scissorhands, in which a 1950s-esque white picket fence community abutted a terrifying Frankenstein's lair. In Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, ranks of grimy terraced housing sits in the lee of Wonka's baroque industrial edifice. One house is particularly rundown, a rickety lean-to that is home to honest young Charlie (Highmore), his poor ma (Bonham Carter) and pa (Taylor) and his four bed-bound grandparents (Kelly, Smith, Essell, Morris). With cabbage soup for dinner and Mr Bucket's job at the toothpaste factory under threat, times are hard in the household.
Charlie is obsessed with the looming Chocolate Factory, building a replica of it out of the toothpaste tube lids his dad brings home. When it is announced that Willy Wonka will finally allow five children into the place after years of seclusion, by putting prized golden tickets in random Wonka products, Charlie really wants to win - but what are the chances of him finding a ticket, when he only gets one chocolate bar a year?
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory's wicked fun at the expense of spoilt brats chimes strongly with contemporary anxieties over children. An obsessive caution towards children alternates with a loathing of them, vesting all the ills of urban society on hoodie-wearing adolescents. The targets of Dahl's concern - too much TV, too much food, too much money, too competitive - are even more relevant today. This is a film about the right way to bring up a child.
Unfortunately, this structure of ticking off one child after another gives the film a linear, pedestrian pace. Some of the set pieces are glorious, such as the fate of Veruca Salt (Winter) at the hands of worker squirrels, and some are just banal. Accordingly interest flares and wanes. This is not helped by each punishment being tailed by a musical number from the Oompah-Loompahs (Roy). The various musical styles of these performances - from Bollywood to funk to poodle rock - are too worldly for the otherworldly little people.
Still, this is an endearingly playful and very funny film. Johnny Depp's Wonka has been compared to Michael Jackson (for his lispy androgyny and white pancake complexion) and Howard Hughes (for his loathing of physical contact) but he also owes something to the actor's love of British sketch shows, with one running gag about the glass elevator playing like a segment from 'The Fast Show'. Following Depp's much-admired turn in Pirates Of The Caribbean, you wonder how long the actor can turn in such dominant performances without upsetting the balance of the picture. Here, Wonka works, to adult eyes at least.
Adults and kids alike will take macabre delight in the punishment of naughty children. Burton and co make smart and funny additions to this classic tale.
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On Film4: 26 May 2013