The advertising campaign for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory features creepy trailers for a kids' movie. That, combined with natural skepticism about director Tim Burton (Big Fish, Ed Wood) taking on anything purported to be for children, makes the success of this film especially surprising.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (rated PG for quirky situations, action, and mild language) stars Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, the famous candy maker created by author Roald Dahl. In many minds, Gene Wilder defines the character in 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a much-loved but very trippy riff on the children's book.
Mr. Depp makes some curious choices in his reinvention of Wonka. He's certainly not much like Dahl's gleeful original-here Wonka is a pale, stunted oddball with intimacy issues and a very, very bad haircut. But Mr. Depp is reasonably convincing, often very funny, and-most importantly-nothing like Michael Jackson.
Other strong points in Charlie include Charlie himself-British actor Freddie Highmore. Another is Mr. Burton's emphasis on the familial aspects of the story, staging wonderful scenes in Charlie's poor but happy home. After Charlie wins the privilege of visiting Wonka's factory, Charlie's family life stands in stark contrast to that of the four bratty winners. As in Dahl's story, they meet with punishments connected to their own and their parents' immodest indulgences.
Mr. Burton's visual style is perfect for Charlie, and he rarely gives in to his more grotesque impulses (although smaller kids might be frightened). This Charlie is a worthy improvement on the original film and a decent companion to Dahl's book.