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Candy Is Dandy: Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) shows off his sugar-industrial complex.

Policy Wonka

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp put a new spin on Roald Dahl's spun-candy favorite, 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'

By Richard von Busack

SHOULD THE PLOT OF Charlie and the Chocolate Factory be outlined? Would it be worthwhile reciting the plot line of Cinderella? Nonetheless, some must not know of the world's greatest chocolate factory, run by a fanatically secret inventor. The poorest shack in this factory town contains Charlie Bucket's family: his mother, his father and his four grandparents, all who live on a diet of nothing but watery cabbage soup. Charlie (Freddie Highmore) is so poor he only gets one candy bar a year. But his luck changes when he wins a tour of Wonka's factory, along with four other very undeserving families.

Escorted by his favorite grandsire, Grandpa Joe (David Kelly, Waking Ned Devine), he gets to meet Wonka himself, (Johnny Depp), a nouveau-Edwardian dandy. Director Tim Burton has smoothed all the faces with digital erasers, to make the flesh look like talcum-covered vinyl. As Wonka, rubber-gloved and with a pageboy haircut, Depp's face is the color of a lavender Necco wafer.

"Everything here is edible," declares Wonka grandly. The ultraviolet candyland is nothing new for Burton, just more extreme. The filmmaker concocted a literal river of actual chocolate, 3 feet deep, a berserk concession to reality. The most arresting effect is the Oompa Loompas (all played by an actor named Deep Roy). This tribe of chocolate-worshipping pygmies resembles the goblins in a children's story, there to help punish the greedy, mean or spiteful children. First go the gluttonous (Philip Wiegratz, the perfect Augustus Gloop); then the grabby (Annasophia Robb, as Violet Beauregarde); then the wheedlers. Julia Winter makes a fine Veruca Salt, who meets the most satisfying fate: attacked and trashed by a mob of educated squirrels.

Often, Danny Elfman's scores work like a Wurlitzer with Burton's silent-film imagery. Here, Elfman goes back to his days with his band Oingo Boingo to create a variety of rock styles from acid to psychedelic. Unfortunately, the lyrics are mixed down; you have to have a good memory of the original words to pick them up.

John August's script is truer to the book than the 1971 version (Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) was. Maybe too true. The movie runs two hours and feels it. August's one innovation doesn't quite play as new, either. In that metaphorical glass elevator that is a movie's plot, the "estranged father" button is always the easiest to push. That said, Christopher Lee as the elder Wonka gets a good deal more to do onscreen than to just make his customary five minutes of epochal threats. Lee is delightfully sinister as a dentist who burns candy for a child's own good.

Burton's movies with Depp as his alter ego seem to be his most autobiographical: Depp as monstrous young misfit (Edward Scissorhands), as a deranged filmmaker (Ed Wood) and now as a peculiar big-business confectioner—a role Burton has been playing ever since Beetlejuice struck it rich. Burton is so often heckled about his slapdash plotting that there must be some resonance in Willy Wonka's defense of what he does: that (eye) candy doesn't have to have a point. Let others raise questions of sugary aftertaste, and worry the fate of children gorged on the artificial.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (PG; 120 min.), directed by Tim Burton, written by John August, based on the book by Roald Dahl, photographed by Philippe Rousselot and starring Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore and David Kelly, opens Friday valleywide.

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