Tim Burton wasted no time in being hailed as a “visionary” director. His first full-length film: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. His second: Beetlejuice. The hits kept coming: Batman (which effectively set the template for the modern superhero movie, for better or worse), Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Ed Wood (his masterpiece), even the wildly underrated Mars Attacks! and Sleepy Hollow. You can’t even call that an incredible start to his career — it’s an incredible career, period. Burton could have retired for a life of owning the world’s least successful hair salon, but unfortunately (here’s the turn) he kept going.
The decrease in quality started slowly in the early 2000s, with the superficially inessential Planet of the Apes and the maudlin-but-genuine Big Fish, but eventually, Burton became to movies what Weezer is to music: you hope for a return to early-career greatness, but it never comes fully, only in spurts.
But I’m not here to bury Burton. Not entirely, at least. In honor of Dumbo, which is better than you think it is (as Vince Mancini pointed out in his review, it’s “more interesting than what I was expecting”), I’m offering compliments to Burton’s post-Big Fish filmography. He may never make something as great as Ed Wood or fun-kinky as Batman Returns, but he still has his moments. Let’s find the good in the bad, the terrible, and the Chocolate Factory. Speaking of!
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a candy-colored fiasco, with ugly CGI, an oddly humorless tone, and an unappealingly hammy performance from Johnny Depp. (To his credit, he tried to find a different, more “reclusive, germaphobe, controlling” way of playing Willy Wonka than Gene Wilder, who memorably called the film “an insult,” but he ended up channeling a thinner-voiced Michael Jackson.) Oh wait, I’m supposed to be positive. Well, Charlie is a lot darker than Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and therefore, closer to Roald Dahl’s source material. The dentist scene is a nightmare and it’s unsettling seeing Deep Roy playing not one, not two, but something like 9,000 Oompa-Loompas, all singing and dancing in unison. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a 20-minute cut away from being a pretty good horror movie.