Here is a movie that started with a bad idea and then did literally everything else wrong on top of that. To start with, making a remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, one of the greatest children’s movies of all time, was a losing proposition from day one…even if the remake had been better executed, it still would have failed simply because it _didn’t need to be done_.
The film was apparently conceived with the delusional idea that it was going to “restore” Dahl’s original source material, but the finished product is a considerably greater deviation from the original novel than the earlier movie, so that hardly holds water as a defense of the piece.
But to be perfectly honest, the Dahl purists only comprise a tiny fraction of the movie’s defenders; the rest of them are Johnny Depp fanatics. Depp’s certainly earned his reputation with a lot of good films, but the facts remains that if you edited Depp’s face into Monster-A-Go-Go and showed it to his fanbase, a good thirty percent of them would come away calling it a masterpiece.
Don’t get me wrong: Depp really is a superb actor, and I will be generous here and acknowledge that he is the closest this movie ever comes to having a redeeming feature. In the thankless and horribly-written role of Willy Wonka, Depp goes above and beyond in his attempts to find an effective way to play the character, and he ultimately turns in a charismatic and arresting performance that is nonetheless completely wrong for the character and the story.
Still, he is far more entertaining than anything else in this movie. Freddie Highmore, the brilliant child actor who co-starred with Depp in Finding Neverland, constitutes this movie’s biggest waste; he’s a vastly more gifted actor than Peter Ostrum in the original movie, but Ostrum ends up giving the more effective performance simply because he was given an actual character to play. Highmore is essentially portrayed as a ten-year old saint, and is never allowed to be anything but adorable and wise beyond his years, so his contribution to the film ends up being negligible.
The other, brattier kids are played in far too understated and realistic a manner: Burton seems to have somehow missed that _real_ bratty kids, as opposed to the comic caricatures in the original movie, aren’t any more entertaining on film than they are in real life.
The film’s visual look is heavily influenced by Burton’s stop-motion animated worlds, which just looks ridiculous in a live-action setting, so even the visuals don’t manage to improve on the first film, which had a limited budget but at least knew how to use it.
Even the songs are poor, easily Danny Elfman’s worst work to date. Dahl’s original poetry for the Oompa-Loompas is restored here, but coupled with insanely inappropriate settings utilizing such styles as mambo, disco, folk-rock and techno. Even if they weren’t being used to butcher the tone of Dahl’s poetry, the songs are still tuneless and painfully dull. The only other song in the film is a maddeningly annoying novelty ditty, catchy in the worst possible sense of the word, that accompanies the grotesque puppet show outside the factory
Everything is capped with an out-of-left-field ending, involving Depp’s Wonka, his long-lost father (seriously) and a bunch of idiotic psychobabble totally foreign to the spirit of the novel. This film is a terrible idea even more terribly executed, and I have trouble understanding why anyone is willing to defend it.