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William Arnold of the Seattle PI... Here's his review: "Charm is outsourced by 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' excesses" By WILLIAM ARNOLD SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER MOVIE CRITIC Ever since it realized that a movie has to have kid-appeal to be a true blockbuster in the new global marketplace, Hollywood has been regularly throwing gigantic budgets and its biggest stars and directors into ambitious adaptations of popular children's novels.
So far, the results have not been impressive. The simplicity, charm and morality that are the key ingredients of any great fable have been buried under the excess and effects of "Polar Express," "Lemony Snicket" and "The Cat in the Hat." "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" should have been different. It's been successfully filmed before, it's the fruit of the inspired director-star team of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, and its star chemistry was proved magical in last year's "Finding Neverland." But, alas, it too is disappointing. Its heart is in the right place and it resists the temptation to junk up the story, but Depp does nothing with his character and the movie has little of the unique wit or panache that would make it appealing to an older-than-10 audience.
Based on Roald Dahl's 1964 book, it's the story of Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), a good boy who lives in a shack with his poor but nurturing family in the shadow of a mysterious candy factory owned by a reclusive mogul "chocolatier" named Willy Wonka.
When Wonka (Depp) has an international lottery that will bring five kids to the factory for a tour and an elimination contest for an unspecified grand prize, Charlie is one of them, and the other four finalists are as greedy and spoiled as he is generous and kind.
So the movie has Wonka leading the five kids and their adult supervisors -- Charlie with his grandfather (David Kelly) -- through the lollypop-land of the factory, in the process of which each of Charlie's competitors are undone by their individual character flaws.
Unlike 1971's "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (which was scripted by Dahl), this version flashes back to Willy's youth to show us how he got the way he is, and the somewhat scary nature of the character embodied by Gene Wilder in the original has been softened.
But this conscious effort to "explain" Willy takes all the edge out of his character, squashes the enigma at the center of the tale, and delivers a moral -- bad kids are the product of bad parents -- that's more obvious and less instructive than Dahl may have wished.
Burton, of course, is a genius with strange characters and bizarre fantasy ("Beetle Juice," "Edward Scissorhands"). But his imagination seems stunted by this material: You get the sense he's in it for the money and couldn't care less about Dahl's confectionery wonderland.
Depp seems even more disinterested and lost. Assuming a toothy smile and a blandly effeminate manner, his Willy has absolutely none of the crazed intensity that made the first film such a gloriously offbeat star vehicle for Wilder.
Similarly, "Finding Neverland's" Freddie Highmore -- proclaimed by Oprah Winfrey as the greatest child actor of all time -- brings nothing special to the table. He seems self-conscious angelic and fails the challenge of making a fascinating character out of a totally good kid.
Like all the recent big-budget kids movies, this one goes for the epic, and it's crammed with computer-generated visual effects, blaring musical and a half-dozen or so extravagant production numbers featuring forgettable songs performed by an army of CGI-munchkins.
It's hard to make out the words of these songs, but -- in line with the film's message about bad adults -- one of them clearly takes a shot at movies so overblown that kids can't recognize the "fairy tale" in them. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
I agree with him all the way.