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Burton Finds the Darker Side of Willy Wonka
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Burton Finds the Darker Side of Willy Wonka



Many adults have fond memories of Gene Wilder starring in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." The novel that inspired that film has been brought to the screen again, this time with Johnny Depp doing a very different take on Wonka. Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan has this review.

KENNETH TURAN reporting:

Director Tim Burton confesses that when it comes to confections, he likes dark, bitter chocolate. His version of Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is equally dark, and if not exactly bitter, unapologetically strange. You won't be able to take your eyes off the screen, but that doesn't mean you'll always be happy with what you're seeing, even with Burton's soul mate Johnny Depp in the starring role.

(Soundbite of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory")

Mr. JOHNNY DEPP: (As Willy Wonka) Everything in this room is eatable. Even I'm eatable, but that is called cannibalism, my dear children, and is, in fact, frowned upon in most societies. Yeah.

TURAN: In theory, this Burton-Dahl teaming sounded as unassailable as Laurel and Hardy. The director's oddball credits include everything from "Edward Scissorhands" to "Ed Wood." That seemed the ideal match for a writer who's been described as having a taste for cruelty, rudeness to adults and the comic grotesque. But though Dahl is all that and more, the reason his novel has sold 13 million copies in 32 languages is that its overall tone is completely genial, even affable. This ability to mix opposites, to be welcoming, as well as weird, is Dahl's gift as a writer.

Though Burton's breathtaking visual imagination is on constant display, that sensibility is more than he can manage. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" does what it can with Dahl's story of five lucky children who get to hang out with the greatest inventor of chocolates that there has ever been. The film's warmest idea is casting young Freddie Highmore, Depp's co-start in "Finding Neverland," as protagonist Charlie Bucket.

(Soundbite of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory")

Unidentified Man #1: Wouldn't it be something, Charlie, to open a bar of candy and to find a golden ticket inside?

FREDDIE HIGHMORE: (As Charlie Bucket) I know, but I only get one bar a year for my birthday.

Unidentified Woman: But it's your birthday next week. You have as much chance as anybody does.

Unidentified Man #2: Balderdash. The kids who are going to find the golden tickets are the ones who can afford to buy candy bars every day.

TURAN: Highmore is a winning young actor and his ability to dominate the early parts of the film makes us miss him all the more when his role lessens. Once everyone gathers at the factory, the film becomes the property of Depp's Willy Wonka, a fussy grotesque who makes Gene Wilder, who played the part in 1971, look as cozy as Mr. Rogers.

(Soundbite of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory")

Mr. DEPP: (As Willy Wonka) And this is hair toffee. You suck down one of these little boogers, and in exactly half an hour, a brand-new crop of hair will start growing out all over the top of your little noggin.

TURAN: Portraying Willy as a weird genius plays suspiciously like Burton's version of himself, a character so peculiar, he exists in his own particular corner of space and time.

(Soundbite of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory")

Unidentified Child #1: Look, the Oompa-Loompas.

Unidentified Child #2: What are they doing?

Mr. DEPP: (As Willy Wonka) Why, I believe they're going to treat us to a little song. It is quite a special occasion, of course. They haven't had a fresh audience in many a moon.

TURAN: Wonka's bizarre nature makes even those tiny but industrious Oompa-Loompas seem sinister, even when the Oompas are singing Roald Dahl's original lyrics. Anyone looking for a reprise of "Candy Man" has definitely come to the wrong movie.

MONTAGNE: Video clips from the movie at

(Soundbite of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory")

OOMPA-LOOMPAS: (Singing) Augustus Gloop, the great big greedy nincompoop. Augustus Gloop, so big and vile, so greedy, foul and infantile. `Come on,' we cried, `the time is ripe, to send him shooting up the pipe.' But don't, dear children, be alarmed. Augustus Gloop will not be harmed.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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