frog's blog

Anuran, n. an amphibian of the order Salientia (formerly Anura or Batrachia), which includes the frogs and toads

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Cheated at the Chocolate Factory

Of all the remakes and remixes at the multiplex in recent years, none (for me) had the hope and hype of Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory featuring Johnny Depp. Like many of my friends and Nashville film critic Jim Ridley, I looked forward to enjoying the “lava-lamp ride down the river of goo” and seeing what impact current techniques would have on the film’s psychedelic qualities.

And since I knew the flick would push some boundaries, I didn’t flinch when my Dad suggested we check it out in IMAX as part of my visit to Detroit last month. Heck, if we want to go over the top, why go not go way over.

Despite the story’s universal appeal and its simplistic (and at times muted) critique of upper class creeps, after the initial dazzle faded, I must say I agree with Ridley’s conclusion that the film “may deliver a bigger bonbon, but it has an empty center.”

Perhaps the tastiest candy in this movie is the “eye candy” of a fey and fluffed up freakazoid version of Johnny Depp or maybe the movie’s redemption can be found in the sanguine and universally maternal vibes emanating from Helena Bonham Carter. But even with David Kelly’s dynamic Grandpa Joe, the film still lacks a memorable center of gravity.

But something else about this film is even more disturbing than its ultimately drab soul. By the time we were home from the theater, my Mom and I were discussing the crude racism and cultural imperialism implicit in Wonka’s happy slaves, the Oompa Loompas.

In an excellent (and mixed in its reception of the film) review, Elyce Helford reminds us that Dahl’s novel featured white Oompa Loompas. But of course, even light skinned indigenous persons don’t necessarily, as Helford writes, seek “servitude (arguably enslavement) because Big Rich King Wonka can whisk them away to live in a factory (do they not miss the SUN, for heaven's sake?) and eat all the chocolate their obsessed childlike little hearts' desire.”

Maybe in the next revision of this film, the Loompas will organize a liberation front, take control of the factory, and kick the Wonka wanker’s rich white ass into the neighborhoods of the (possibly unionized?) workers he fired, like Charlie Bucket’s Dad.

Even if this were just a load of politically-correct bickering, it would still be a valid critique. But according to Global Exchange, as Nestle sells their pitiful version of the Wonka bar, child slavery and massive exploitation still exists to bring us our chocolate buzz.

Since most Americans refuse to give up their cocoa and coffee fixes (myself included, I confess), even to reduce global misery, we should at least check out the excellent products offered by the fair trade movement. For my cup of French Roast in the morning and my morsel of chocolate in the evening, I turn to Equal Exchange. I think it’s the least I can do.


At 5:42 AM, Blogger Elyce Rae Helford said...

Really nice, Anu. Enjoyed the review and the powerful inclusion of free trade and the politics of chocolate (and coffee).


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