Movies: For Wonka, Tooth Is Beauty

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's not dark enough

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Finally. After all these years, we know what drove Willy Wonka to his career as a master chocolatier; it was all his father's fault. Dad was a maniacal dentist who completely forbade candy.

Thus was an obsession born. For Willy, all chocolate is bittersweet. So he builds the world's largest candy factory and manages it in a way that could be described as presumptively eccentric. As a backstory for Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, that is, shall we say, a serviceable invention. The same might be said of Tim Burton's new movie adaptation of this apparently unstoppable media property. It's all right without being particularly riveting.

By now, you must know the story: saintly, poverty-stricken Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) and his family live hard by the Wonka works, the day-to-day upkeep of which Willy (Johnny Depp) has turned over to the Oompa-Loompas. He hides five golden tickets in his candy bars, the finders of which are entitled to visit his factory. Besides Charlie, the lucky--ultimately unlucky--winners include a glutton, an overachiever, a video-game addict and a spoiled rich kid, all of whom get sadistic comeuppances from Willy that will perhaps disturb parents more than they will their offspring, since kids have to deal with similar archetypal pests every day in school. Those little character sketches are the best thing about the movie, the rest of which is devoted to explorations of the factory's not very imaginatively realized wonders (the one exception is a roomful of squirrels sorting nuts).

This is rather a thin tale, not much thickened by Burton's direction or Depp's playing. There's a distance, a detachment to this film. It lacks passion. This was a defect of Dahl's novel as well as the first movie version: they never fully embraced the dark side of the story. Children can handle deeper scares than this movie offers. More important, they deserve edgier, more suspenseful storytelling than it provides.