Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Acclaimed director Tim Burton brings his vividly imaginative style to the beloved Roald Dahl classic "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", about eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) and Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), a good-hearted boy from a poor family who lives in the shadow of Wonka's extraordinary factory. 


My Thoughts

Whether you are young or old. A fan of the book or the 1971 movie. Tim Burtons new take this much loved story does not disappoint. Slightly darker and much more realistic that the 1971 film which stared Gene Wilder This new candyland is a mouthwatering treat for the eyes and the senses. You can almost smell the aromas of candied delicacies wafted in the air and just about taste the chocolate river. All around me mouths watered as the characters romped and chomped their way through Wonkas factory.

As I sat in the middle of excited and happy theatergoers, I had no desire to compare and contrast this new version with the one I remembered from childhood. I did however have a few moments of oh yeah, I remember grandpa dancing and so that's where my dreams of elevators crashing through ceilings and traveling every which way come from.  Happy remembrances with no comparisons of  "oh, I liked this and that part better".  That is with one exception all the music is new created by Danny Elfman and although it was satisfactory.  I really missed tapping my feet and singing under my breath to the Oompalompah song and of course the Candyman.


With that out of the way I really enjoyed this film. The direction although a little dark didn't seem as overly dark as I have heard reported. In deed I found it less scary as the original. Maybe that is because I'm older and memory can be tricky. But, I just didn't find it Dark like you come to expect from Burton. 

It was extremely well cast and right the performances were right on the mark. The look and feel of the movie was extremely close to the original vision author Dahl had for this story. It's a fun outrageous, loveable, rotten, sugary even a little poisonous movie, which leaves you with a sweet taste in your mouth - kind of like eating a chocolate bar.  Which by the way, you'll want to have on hand as you romp along inside this delightful fantasy.

The  Process

In bringing "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" to life on screen, producers Brad Grey and Richard Zanuck had some small idea of what they were getting themselves into. "This was bigger than anything I've been involved with in my entire career, not only as a producer but as a studio head.  It's bigger in scope, size and imagination," says Zanuck.


"Here was a book with the potential, just visually, to be absolutely spectacular on film and we were excited with the idea of being able to produce it on a scale that Roald would have appreciated, without compromising any of the heart he put into it," says Grey, "We took our time to get the script right and assemble a team that felt the same way we did about it."

Published in 1964, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" recently celebrated its 40th anniversary in print.  As beloved by children and adults today as it has been throughout the past four decades, the book has sold over 13 million copies worldwide and been translated into 32 languages.  Its enduring popularity indicates how well the author understood, appreciated and communicated to children. 

"It's more than a children's book," says Zanuck.  "It's a wild ride, certainly, a fun-house candy fantasyland, but it has deeper emotional implications.  The character of Wonka, who he is and who he becomes at the end of the story through his connection with young Charlie, is very moving.  It's a fantasy that touches everyone." 


Starring as Charlie is Freddie Highmore, who rejoins Depp after sharing the screen with him in 2004's acclaimed drama Finding Neverland. Playing Highmore's mother for the second time on film is Helena Bonham Carter.  His very first film role was playing her son in Women Talking Dirty. Producer Grey says of the young star, "He brings great emotion to the role, but you don't see any of the strings - you don't see him working.  He really is well beyond his years to have that kind of skill." 

When Tim Burton proposed the role of Willy Wonka to his friend and frequent collaborator, two-time Oscar nominee Johnny Depp, he was barely able to get the words out.  As Depp relates the conversation, "We were having dinner and he said, 'I want to talk to you about something.  You know that story, ""Charlie and the Chocolate Factory""?  Well, I'm going to do it and I'm wondering  if you'd want to play' .' and I couldn't even wait for him to finish the sentence.  I said, 'I'm in.  Absolutely.  I'm there.'  No question about it."

"To be chosen to play Willy Wonka in itself a great honor," says Depp, a long-time fan of Dahl's work, "but to be chosen by Tim Burton is double, triple the honor.  His vision is always amazing, beyond anything you expect.  Just the fact that he was involved meant I didn't need to see a script before committing.  If Tim wanted to shoot 18 million feet of film of me staring into a light bulb and I couldn't blink for three months, I'd do it."


"Johnny is a great character actor in many ways," says Burton - "a character actor in the form of a leading man.  That's what struck me about him from the very beginning and it's what makes him such an intriguing actor - the fact that he's not necessarily interested in his image but more in becoming a character and trying different things.  He's willing to take risks.  Each time I work with him he's something different."

"Willy Wonka is an eccentric," notes Zanuck.  "He's odd, he's funny, he's aloof yet terribly vulnerable; it's an interesting composite, both childlike and deep at the same time.  No other actor could give this character the kind of depth, range and spin it requires.  Johnny has an incredible gift."

One OompaLoompa

Deep Roy, whom Burton appropriately calls "the hardest-working man in show business," took on the daunting task of starring as an entire community of Oompa-Loompas, the factory's sole work force.  Rescued by Willy Wonka from their harsh life in distant Loompaland, they now cheerfully live and work inside its walls

Having worked with Burton in Planet of the Apes and Big Fish, Roy was happy to renew the association when contacted about the part.  But there was a catch, as the actor relates with a laugh.  "The first time Tim mentioned the idea he said 'There will be only one Oompa-Loompa and it's going to be you.  We're going to create hundreds from you.'  Then he thought perhaps I would be doing as many as five in close-up.  The next time I saw him in London, five had become nineteen!   In the end, it didn't matter to me if it was 19 or 20 or 50.  It's been an absolute blast." 


The production team managed to populate the screen with scores of the diminutive and industrious factory workers through motion and facial capture technology, creating duplicate yet individual Oompa-Loompas in computer image from Roy's multiple performances and then scaling them down to size.  For Roy, it meant months of rehearsal and choreography.  If a scene called for numerous Oompas to join in a narrative song and dance, Roy would perform the steps for all of them, each from a slightly different starting mark and each with subtle distinctions of expression and movement, so that when the images were joined he became an entire troupe.

"The audience may think it's all computer-generated," says Roy, "but that's not the case.  If you see 20 Oompas, I did all 20 performances."  Additionally, state-of-the-art photo-realistic and animatronic Oompas were modeled from Roy to supplement the action and serve as physical focal points in the scenes. 

Real Chocolate River

"The most important thing Tim said about the chocolate river," recalls Joss Williams, was "'make it look good enough to eat,' and that's how we approached it, to look as yummy as possible." 


For the effects supervisor, that meant managing "viscosity, looks, color testing and safety issues," not to mention logistics, quantity, transportation and storage. The option of making the chocolate off-site and bringing it in via tanker was quickly dismissed, as calculations estimated a need for 40 tanker trucks.  It seemed a better plan to manufacture and store the stuff on site. As for mixing it, conventional cement mixers proved inadequate.  They needed a vessel that could mix three or four tons at a time, which they found, ironically, in the form of commercial vats designed for mixing toothpaste, that could blend as many as 12 tons at a time and store 20,000.  

Altogether, production required a constant supply of more than 200,000 gallons of flowing chocolate; approximately 32,000 for the waterfall and 170,000 for the river, which measures 180 feet long by 25-to-40-feet wide, and is nearly 3 feet at its deepest point.


Without revealing the exact recipe, Williams acknowledges experimenting with mixtures of water and dietary cellulose, with various food dyes to achieve the right look and texture.  "Color to the eye is different than color on film," he explains, "so we tested through a whole pattern of shades to get exactly the right one."  Once prepared, the mixture was constantly cleaned and tested daily by a local laboratory "to make sure it was safe for the company to work with and eat."  Only half-joking, he adds, "we had to keep the bugs down to an acceptable level.  There's about as many bugs in it as you'd find in an airline sandwich."

'Good Nut Squirrels'

Like Wonka, Tim Burton also wanted the real thing - live, trained squirrels one hundred to be exact.  "When I found out what was involved, it was a bit overwhelming," says Senior Animal Trainer Mike Alexander, of Birds & Animals Unlimited.   Alexander was happy to re-team with Burton following his successful stint as a chimpanzee wrangler on Planet of the Apes, but admits, "squirrels can be very tough, and training 100 of them was inconceivable." 


Ultimately, the animals on screen were an artful amalgamation of skillfully crafted animatronics plus some CG and multiple images along with 40 individual, rambunctious and very real squirrels to set the standard and lead the animal action. 

Multiplication meant capturing the animals performing on cue, one at a time, and joining the images to present the group in unison.  For example, where the squirrels are meant to jump from their stools en masse and run toward Veruca, Thum explains, "they could jump, but not all at the same time.  So we had to shoot each squirrel alone, jumping off its stool, and then synchronize them into one shot."

The computer images were then painstakingly rendered hair by hair to convey individuality, as Thum describes.  "The tricky part was that many CG shots had to cut with shots of the real animals and we found that our close-up squirrels needed five million hairs to look authentic."  Fur was groomed to match the tiniest details of length, color and direction of growth.  Nuances of movement such as breathing and twitching were added to complete the effect.

"We took baby steps," he continues.  "After they were comfortable sitting with us we introduced them to the props.  We taught them to pick up a nut and put it into a metal bowl, which is not what they'd do in the movie but once they got the idea of picking the nut up and putting it into a bowl we could change the bowl to a conveyer belt.  Once they grasped the basic concepts, they began to learn faster and things started coming together." 


Each squirrel had a name and it wasn't long before individual personalities and talents emerged.  "All of them are capable of learning, but some are naturally better at certain things than others," says Alexander.  "We found that some of them had no interest at all in picking up the nut, while others, once they had it, refused to let it go.  Those that didn't lend themselves to being 'good nut squirrels' were moved to a second group, being trained to run across the floor toward Veruca.  Our smartest squirrels do the nut gag."

There was a limit to what the real squirrels could do, by their nature or in deference to the potential danger of a scene.  In those cases, animatronic or CG troops were called in.

Warner Bros. Pictures presents, in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, a Zanuck Company / Plan B Production of a Tim Burton Film. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" opens Nationwide Friday July 15th Rated PG by the MPAA for "quirky situations, action and mild language."

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