Since Disney isn't churning out an animated classic every year anymore, the world of family movies can be a mixed bag. If you're looking for a movie for the whole family, save March of the Penguins until it comes out on DVD, but check out the imaginative but slightly disturbing new version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory while it's still in the theaters.
Yes, March of the Penguins shows dead baby penguins. The final count is six dead penguins?#34;they freeze to death, die of exhaustion and are gobbled by sea lions and huge birds. This nature documentary isn't padded around the edges.
If you love penguins or nature documentaries, it'll probably work for you. There's an almost humanlike quality to the way the penguins care for their young and their partners. The icecaps and aquamarine blue waters create awe-inspiring scenery. It sure made me respect how these animals survive in the coldest place on earth.
But it's not quite worthy of its large crowds and exceptionally great reviews. The pace is slow; the kids next to me fidgeted a lot and the people behind me fell asleep. The camera lingers on dripping icicles for long seconds and spends several minutes zooming in on feathers for a penguin sex scene. There's some extraordinary camera work here, but it drags at points.
And instead of following a specific penguin family, the movie tells the story from the perspective of hundreds of penguins. As a result, I found it difficult to connect emotionally. The music didn't add to the drama, since it was mostly flute "nature" sounds.
Since Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel are my cable defaults when nothing else is on, I found this movie interesting and educational. It's something I'd see on video anyway. But I wouldn't recommend a theater ticket to someone who doesn't normally enjoy nature documentaries.
But Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a film worth the eight bucks. It's classic Tim Burton (who also directed, among others, Edward Scissorhands, Batman, Beetle Juice and Big Fish), which means it's a bit disturbing and dark. But honestly, if you think about it, the Roald Dahl book on which it's based is a bit disturbing and dark.
Four grandparents huddling in the same bed all night and all day? A dad who spends most of his life twisting toothpaste caps so his family can scrape together some cabbage soup? A candy maker who isn't fazed when four out of his five guests get caught in the gears of his chocolate factory and leave significantly altered? You get the point.
This version makes those depressing details crystal-clear, going so far as to tint Charlie's home blue and gray. The most memorable character, Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka, is shamelessly eccentric. He grins and giggles every time a kid goes down the (chocolate) tubes.
The script modernizes the kids, and adds a subplot about Willy Wonka's disturbed childhood. Violet Beauregard, the marathon gum-smacker, and her mother are perfect parodies of the modern drive to win. Mike Teevee is addicted to gory video games instead of violent TV; he has some great conspiracy theories that have the audience laughing. Adults will also giggle at the creative references to 1960s and '70s pop culture.
But is most respects, this version follows the book much more closely than the earlier Gene Wilder musical. My favorite nod to the source was the Oompa-Loompa songs?#34;Burton uses lyrics straight out of the book. Here, the Oompa-Loompas, all played by one man, are tinier and they burst into humorously-choreographed song and dance lines whenever a kid gets his just desserts.
In the end, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory gets a thumbs up because of the unapologetic way it journeys into imagination.