Home > Reviews > CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY – Danny Elfman

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY – Danny Elfman

charlieandthechocolatefactoryOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

One thing you can say about Tim Burton, he isn’t afraid of taking risks. Having already re-made one of cinema’s all-time classic science fiction films in the shape of Planet of the Apes, he has again subjected himself to the wrath of fans by revisiting another well-loved classic: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a remake of the 1971 Gene Wilder classic, which was itself based on a famous novel by Roald Dahl. Along for the ride for the tenth time is Danny Elfman, whose collaborations with Burton have resulted in some of the finest movie music heard in the last 20 years. Interestingly, on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Elfman was given the opportunity to write a number of original songs to complement his score, something he has not attempted for over a decade. It was worth the wait.

Reclusive billionaire Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) is a world-famous candy-maker, whose fortress-like factory remains a source of wonder and mystery for sweet-tooths the world over. It transpires that Wonka has hidden five golden tickets inside the wrappers of the millions of Wonka chocolate bars sold around the world, and those lucky enough to find them will be treated to a tour of the Wonka facility. After a world-wide search, the five winners arrive at the Wonka gates with their families: Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), an overweight German boy whose primary food group is chocolate; upper-class English girl Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), who is spoiled by her aristocratic father; Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb), a competitive chewing gum addict; Mike Teavee (Jordon Fry), a super-intelligent video game addict whose world revolves around his television; and shy English lad Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), a poor boy who uses his last money to buy the winning candy bar, and who brings his grandfather Joe (David Kelly) on the tour. As the gates open, and the lucky winners venture inside, they are unaware of the wonders they are about to see…

Warner’s album begins with the songs which, with the exception of the intentionally irritating calliope-style “Wonka’s Welcome Song” the film’s first trailer, are generally outstanding. It’s important to remember that Elfman’s background is that of a rock star rather than a classically trained composer, and although he hasn’t written many original songs recently (with the exception, of course, of A Nightmare Before Christmas), it remains his first love. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s need for a number of original songs allowed Elfman to revisit the wacky, inventive, musically elaborate style he employed as a member of Oingo Boingo back in the early 1980s – and it’s almost like he’s never been away.

Each song, which feature lyrics taken adapted from Dahl’s original texts, are written as “laments” for each child when they fall foul of their horrible confectionary-related fates, and are performed on-screen by the Oompa-Loompas. Each one has its own distinctive style – finger-snapping big bands which recall the Los Angeles-based swing group Big Bad Voodoo Daddy for “Augustus Gloop”, slick boy band harmonies for “Violet Beauregarde”, dreamy 1960s ballads complete with sitars for “Veruca Salt”, and Bohemian Rhapsody-inspired prog-rock for “Mike Teavee”. The sentiments expressed in the lyrics are simultaneously moralistic and darkly twisted, wickedly espousing in humorously grisly detail what will happen to gluttons, spoiled brats and kids who chew too much. They have the same sense of twisted fun as the songs in The Nightmare Before Christmas, and will certainly appeal to fans of that score. I can see one, or even more, of these songs picking up an Oscar nomination next year – my favourite being “Augustus Gloop”.

The score is an interesting mixed bag of styles and influences, picking up bits and pieces from everything including To Die For, Batman, Sommersby and Dead Presidents. However, for the most part, the score which it resembles the most is Edward Scissorhands, notably through its continued use of high strings and cooing voices to lend that unmistakable feeling of magic. “Charlie’s Birthday Bar”, “The Golden Ticket/Factory” and “First Candy” contain beautiful, balletic themes which seem to shimmer with fairy-tale glister, while the bittersweet “Charlie Declines” and the extended “Finale” contain some of Elfman’s loveliest orchestral writing in some time, the latter especially almost recapturing the awesome beauty of his 1990 masterpiece. The only criticism I would have is that Elfman never quite allows the theme to emerge into a truly spine-tingling statement, despite hinting at it on several occasions – something of a slight missed opportunity.

When not tugging at the heart strings, Elfman is instead revisiting the slightly schizophrenic, ever-changing musical styles he was writing for Pee-Wee Herman back in the early 80s with playful melodies, light orchestrations, endless changes in direction and style, and a wonderful sense of warmth and whimsy that is only slightly tempered by the permeating sense of mischievous darkness. The “Main Title” is a perfect example of this, zipping across a multitude of modes during its five minutes, from the spooky opening chords to the chattering vocal work and dense brass chords. Similarly, “Wheels in Motion”, has a thoughtful opening, before emerging into a thrusting Spider-Man style motif, finally ending on a note of high excitement with racing strings and a whiff of the Turkish bazaar.

The music for the Oompa-Loompas is plainly inspired by African music, albeit with a slight modern rock kick in the orchestrations to complement the tribal beats. Cues such as “Loompa Land” reawaken memories of the unique ooga-booga vocal work Elfman provided for his brother Richard’s 1994 film Shrunken Heads, while the spectacular “The Boat Arrives” and the two “River Cruise” cues revel in similarly vibrant vocals and impressive percussion performances. Oddly, parts of them reminded me of a cross between Miklós Rózsa’s slave galley music from Ben-Hur, James Newton Howard’s score for The Postman, and cottonfield work songs.

Other cues such as “The Indian Palace” mix sitars with dark string writing, while “Chocolate Explorers” juxtaposes nervous anticipation with revelatory fanfares as the ticket holders experience the inside of the Wonka factory for the first time. The cacophonous “Up and Out” contains the score’s only moment of action, and the “End Credit Suite” revisits the music from the original songs and presents them without vocals.

For me, and with the notable exception of Sleepy Hollow in 1999, this is the best Elfman score in almost a decade. It marks the long-overdue return to the “vintage” sound we all fell in love with in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and reminds us what a magical, beautiful composer he can be. As such, it comes with the highest possible recommendation, especially for those who have waited and waited for the magic of old to come back. This is the homecoming.

Rating: ****½

Track Listing:

  • Wonka’s Welcome Song (written by Danny Elfman and John August, performed by Danny Elfman) (1:03)
  • Augustus Gloop (written by Danny Elfman and Roald Dahl, performed by Danny Elfman with the Alleyns School Brass Ensemble) (3:12)
  • Violet Beauregarde (written by Danny Elfman and Roald Dahl, performed by Danny Elfman) (2:10)
  • Veruca Salt (written by Danny Elfman and Roald Dahl, performed by Danny Elfman) (2:15)
  • Mike Teavee (written by Danny Elfman and Roald Dahl, performed by Danny Elfman) (1:34)
  • Main Titles (5:03)
  • Wonka’s First Shop (1:44)
  • The Indian Palace (3:18)
  • Wheels in Motion (3:20)
  • Charlie’s Birthday Bar (1:55)
  • The Golden Ticket/Factory (3:06)
  • Chocolate Explorers (2:16)
  • Loompa Land (1:44)
  • The Boat Arrives (1:18)
  • The River Cruise (Part 1) (1:56)
  • First Candy (1:24)
  • Up and Out (3:13)
  • The River Cruise (Part 2) (1:59)
  • Charlie Declines (1:34)
  • Finale (3:43)
  • End Credit Suite (7:01)

Running Time: 54 minutes 08 seconds

Warner 72264 (2005)

Music composed by Danny Elfman. Conducted by Rick Wentworth. Orchestrations by Steve Bartek, Edgardo Simone, David Slonaker and Bruce Fowler. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands. Edited by Bill Abbott and Michael Higham. Mastered by Patricia Sullivan-Fourstar. Album produced by Danny Elfman.

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