2005-08-05 / Columnists


By Robert Snyder

Actor Johnny Depp must have a special affection for the Rolling Stones.

In “Pirates of the Caribbean,” his rum-fueled captain was modeled after lead guitarist Keith Richards. Now, with “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” his eccentric candy maker, Willy Wonka, has adopted the Prince Valiant hairdo of the Stone’s late rhythm guitarist Brian Jones.

Or, has the actor just made that excuse in a published report to divert attention away from the obvious parallels to singer Michael Jackson, he of the pasty face, gloved hand and Neverland ranch for enraptured children?

Based on the famous book by Roald Dahl, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a morality fable, warning children of the pitfalls of being a brat. Under the direction of Tim Burton and featuring “Edward Scissorhands” star Depp, Dahl’s tale goes to the highest heights and the deepest depths of fear-factor fantasy.

After an intriguing title sequence on the Wonka chocolate bar assembly line, the film opens in the ramshackle house of the impoverished Buckett family. There, noble young Charlie (Freddie Highmore) lives with Mum (Helena Bonham Carter), out-of-work Dad (Noah Taylor), and four grandparents sharing the same bed. We soon hear Grandpa Joe (David Kelly) tell stories about the Emerald City-esque chocolate factory, which was sealed to the public years ago by owner Wonka to prevent the theft of his secret candy recipes. Yet, his yummy confections are  still being manufactured, without anyone coming or going from the facility.

One day, notices appear around town, announcing that five Wonka bars will contain golden tickets, inviting an equal number of lucky children to visit the famous factory. Four of the winning kids turn out to be insufferable brats: Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), a fat, eat-a-holic; Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), wealthy and spoiled rotten; Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb), a crazed martial artist, who even competes at gum-chewing; and video-game lunatic Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry). The fifth winner is Charlie, the only nice kid in the bunch.

Off they go with one parent each to Wonka-land, where they meet Willy, their host to what-becomes-a-torture chamber to all but Charlie. They learn that the factory is operated by a strange tiny tribe of Oompa Loompas (all played by Deep Roy), who sing and dance songs composed by Burton regular Danny Elfman after each brat gets a comeuppance.

Through flashbacks, we discover that Willy was raised by an abusive dentist (Christopher Lee), hence the boy-man’s obsession with previously-denied candy.

It turns out that Willy is really in search of true friendship. Once, he weeds out the bad seeds, he focuses on Charlie, realizing that success is in a wonderful family, not manufactured sweetness.

The problem is that Depp’s performance is so bizarre that it takes a while to find the human being beneath the sugar coating. In fact, I have yet to find anyone who didn’t prefer Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka from the 1971 film version.

So I rented the DVD. Maybe you should do the same.

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