I'm a relative newcomer to the world of Roald Dahl, the beloved children's author who passed away in 1990. Having only read his two most famous books as a child, 1961's James and the Giant Peach and 1964's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I was enthralled as a young man but slipped away during my transition into adulthood. Nonetheless, the works of Dahl are intended for children of all ages: featuring memorable characters, imaginative locales and clever inventions, they blend fantasy and reality in a unique manner. His books have been adapted to film on many occasions, from the classic 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to Wes Anderson's stop-motion take on Fantastic Mr. Fox.
The former was re-adapted in 2005 by the like-minded Tim Burton, who brought Charlie and the Chocolate Factory roaring back to life. Following the original book more closely in some respects (and less closely in others), Burton brings a more visually ambitious eye to his version...but at the end of the day, it's definitely more of a companion piece than an intended replacement. The marvelous cast includes longtime Burton collaborators Johnny Depp (as Wonka), Helena Bonham Carter (Charlie's mother), Deep Roy (as the Oompa-Loompas) and composer Danny Elfman, among others. Slick visual effects and camera trickery bring Wonka's factory to life with energy to spare, which should enthrall parents just as much as children. This is a truly solid piece of family filmmaking, and that's something we just don't see very often anymore (especially without fart jokes around every corner).
Perhaps the film's only notable flaws are some of the songs and about 15 minutes' worth of pacing problems. Our first act builds quite nicely, thanks to a strong performance by Freddie Highmore as young Charlie. He's the heart and soul of our story, so it's no surprise that the film only lags when he drifts into the background. A few flashbacks and cutaways slow the momentum, from an early "chocolate palace" side-story to the depressing childhood of Wonka himself (which thanfully ends on a high note). Additionally, the Oompa-Loompa songs---all perfomed by Elfman, including the vocals---are mostly uninspired: these get repetitive quickly and Dahl's lyrics aren't his best effort. This stands in stark contrast with the 1971 adaptation: the Oompa-Loompa songs were one of the film's most memorable moments, and this version just falls flat in comparison. Luckily, it succeeds in most every other department, especially Depp's mischievous performance as Wonka himself. His take is darker and slightly more mean-spirited...but it's hard not to root against the four little brats, is it?
Originally released on DVD in 2005 and HD DVD a year later, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory missed the Blu-Ray boat while that pesky format war was raging on. Luckily, it's finally made its way to the surviving format...and with an improved audio presentation to boot. Though the bonus features aren't anything new, this well-rounded effort should thrill fans of Dahl's heartwarming story.
Video & Audio Quality
Like the 2006 HD-DVD release, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
gets a nice boost in 1080p...and for my money, this looks like the same 1.85:1 transfer. The film's wildly chaotic color palette is well-represented every step of the way, from the bluish-grey tones of Charlie's hometown to the candy-colored walls of the factory itself. It's also worth noting that many of the shots---especially close-ups of the children---have been digitally "waxed" to create a plastic, cartoony appearance, and it doesn't look like any further DNR was used here. Overall, this is a solid treatment of a very unique looking film.
In the audio department, Warner Bros.' Blu-Ray actually one-ups the original HD DVD: we're treated to a new TrueHD 5.1 mix in addition to the previous Dolby Digital Plus track. The audio opens up quite nicely during the second and third acts, employing a rich amount of surround activity and LFE. Dialogue is clean and doesn't fight for attention with Danny Elfman's excellent score, which is also offered as a music-only TrueHD track. Optional dubs are also available in French and Spanish (Dolby Digital Plus), while optional subtitles are offered in English, French and Spanish during the film only.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
I've never liked Warner Bros.' Blu-Ray menus, and this is no exception. In a way, they're practical: there's a minimal amount of navigation and sub-menus, which can be annoying in their own right. But unless you're viewing them on a 50" screen or larger, some of the text can be really hard to make out. In any case, this 115-minute film has been divided into roughly two dozen chapters and this release does not appear to be region locked. The one-disc package is housed in one of those annoying "eco-friendly" cases with the holes in it, and no inserts or slipcovers are included.
Everything of note has returned from the 2006 HD DVD release...and, by extension, the 2-disc Collector's Edition DVD. Like the HD DVD release, the Audio Commentary
with director Tim Burton has morphed into a picture-in-picture "In-Movie Experience" complete with pop-ups, additional cast/crew interviews, artwork, behind-the-scenes goodies and more (above left). Of course, the commentary by itself was a pretty good track, but this neat little upgrade adds a bit more icing on the cake.
All of the other extras can be found on both the HD DVD and Collector's Edition DVD releases, and they're still in standard definition. These recycled goodies begin with a handful of brief Featurettes, including "Chocolate Dreams", "Different Faces, Different Flavors", "Designer Chocolate", "Under the Wrapper", "Sweet Sounds", "Becoming an Oompa Loompa", "Attack of the Squirrels" (above right) and "The Fantastic Mr. Dahl". All are worth watching...especially the last two, which cover the extensive animal training for the "nut-sorting" sequence and a nice look at the book's beloved author. Also returning are two short Visual FX Featurettes ("Augustus Gloop Dance" and "Mike Teavee Dance"), the film's Theatrical Trailer and a Music-Only Track featuring Danny Elfman's score in TrueHD. A nice assortment to be sure, but it's a shame we couldn't get a few new extras for good measure.
Tim Burton's stab at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a worthy companion to the original book and the 1971 adaptation, featuring a terrific cast and plenty of eye-popping visual effects. Though some of the songs aren't very memorable, they might play better to the younger crowd...especially since this is an ideal choice for family movie night. Warner Bros.' economical Blu-Ray only improves upon previous releases in the A/V department, featuring a solid transfer and a brand new TrueHD audio mix. Only the film's biggest fans will consider it a worthy upgrade...but if you haven't purchased or seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on a home format, this one's a no-brainer. Firmly Recommended.
NOTE: The above images were obtained from promotional outlets and do not represent this release's native resolution.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes at a local gallery and runs a website or two in his spare time. He also enjoys slacking off, telling lame jokes and writing stuff in third person.