Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is Danny Elfman and Tim Burton's tenth collaboration, resulting in one of the composer's very best and charming scores in a long time, with Elfman returning to his Edward Scissorhands/fairy tale sound. Also, Elfman's score contains a little of everything he has been doing for Burton, and other directors, throughout his career so far, reminiscent at times of scores such as The Family Man, Big Fish, The Nightmare Before Christmas and To Die For.
The score portion of the soundtrack album opens with Elfman's "Main Title" music. Similar in sound and structure to his main title cues for the two Spider-Man films, this is a very rythmic and brassy piece that constantly changes direction and pace, with whimsical choir, low staccato strings and some synth effects. It's quite a catchy cue, filled with Elfman's typical quirky sound. The mysterious sounding "Wonka's First Shop" - filled with celesta and beautiful woodwinds - treats the listener with the first statement of one of the major themes - a lovely, but sad, waltz for Wonka himself. "The Indian Palace" adds some sitar, Asian percussion and harmonies to the mix, while "Wheels in Motion" opens with celesta, choir and soft strings, reprising Wonka's theme - classic Elfman! - but soon interrupted by a grand statement of the main title music, sans choir.
The music for the Oompa Loompas are brought to the foreground in cues such as "Loompa Land" and "The Boat Arrives". Elfman uses African sounding elements to represent these, I think rather creepy, little characters, with low humming voices and percussion. "The Boat Arrives" features some low, dark brass that sounds like it could have been written for a King Kong film and "Up and Out" includes the scores only outburst of dissonance and chaos.
But while this music is all rather memorable what makes this score so enjoyable is the lyrical orchestral writing. "First Candy" includes some excellent, bombastic music, complete with swirling strings, choir and brass. And "Charlie Declines" and "Finale" offer some really, really beautiful music, similar to Edward Scissorhands and The Family Man, complete with celesta, piano, choir and heart tugging strings. This is one of the things that Elfman does best, and it's hard not getting all teary eyed while listening to this beautiful music, which thankfully never gets too sentimental or sweet.
Elfman also wrote five songs for the film, and these open the soundtrack album. "Wonka's Welcome Song" is a bizarre little one minute song, used as source music in the film. It's more annoying than entertaining, actually, although it is rather catchy. As for the rest of the songs, they are all sung by Elfman himself (after inhaling a whole tube of helium, it seems), with lyrics by Roald Dahl, although often slightly adapted by Elfman, and performed by the Oompa Loompas in the film. The songs take some time getting used to - I just found them to be weird at first, but I have grown to really like them. They do, after all, add some much needed quirkiness to the film and its soundtrack. This is where Elfman's Oingo Boingo roots come in handy. "Augustus Gloop" features some catchy big band and swing rythms, with groovy brass and percussion, while "Violet Beauregarde" is filled with funky guitars, disco strings and brass. "Veruca Salt" is a Beatles sounding pop song, that ows a lot to the 60's and bands such as The Beach Boys, with The Beatles sound hightened by the use of sitar. "Mike Teavee" sounds like a mix of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and some of the songs from Elfman's own The Nightmare Before Christmas. All in all, imagine some quite weird, but also charming and catchy songs and you have a pretty good idea of what these songs sound like.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a beautiful, melodic score. It's only noteworthy disadvantage is that Elfman really never allows his themes to really shine. The themes are in there, to be sure, but I feel that some really strong statements would have made this a five star effort. Instead, it's a really, really strong four star score. A wonderful score.