Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Roald Dahl (book)
John August (screenplay)
Producer: Richard D. Zanuck
Starring: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Deep Roy, and Christopher Lee

Director Tim Burton has been off his game as of late. His Planet of the Apes remake featured great Rick Baker make-up and nothing else to recommend it (don’t even get me started on that ending!). His Big Fish was a disappointment to a much lesser extent, but a disappointment non the less. However, the director’s track record when teamed with Johnny Depp (Edward ScissorhandsEd Wood, and Sleepy Hollow) has been perfect. And so I held out great hope for this film.

At first glance, you would think that this duo had delivered us a sweet Technicolor children’s film–what with its candy landscapes, its cast of kiddies, and its singing and dancing Oompa-Loompas (more on them later). Peel off the wrapper, however, and you’ll find this Chocolate Factory to be very dark indeed. This is a deliciously perverse, deeply disturbing, and mean-spirited tale.

Needless to say, I thought it was fabulous.

Depp plays Roald Dahl’s demented candy man Willy Wonka–a wealthy inventor who has lived for over 15 years locked away from the world inside his workshop. One day, he sends out packages of Wonka Bars that contain Golden Tickets. Anyone who finds these tickets gets to visit the chocolate factory and has a chance to win an incredible prize. One catch: there are only 5 tickets in the entire world.

Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore, who co-starred with Depp in last year’s Finding Neverland) thinks his chances of finding one of these all-access passes are slim. You see, his family is so poor that he only gets one chocolate bar a year–on his birthday. Miraculously, he does find one, however, and he happily joins the four other children (all of whom are insufferable) on this once in a lifetime tour. When they’re locked inside the factory walls, however, they find that this sugar-spun world is a dangerous place indeed.

Depp’s Wonka looks like a cross between Michael Jackson and Buster Brown with his flamboyant dress; his white, pasty face; his big, white, perfectly straight teeth (Wonka’s dad–the great Christopher Lee–was a dentist); his widened pupils, and his truly goofy haircut. And then there’s that silky, high pitched voice of his. It’s a far cry from Gene Wilder’s take on the character in the 1971 musical Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. If you grew up with that film as I did, you might have picked up on the fact that Mr. Wonka is a bit twisted. Depp takes the creepy seeds Wilder planted in the original and gives them Miracle Grow. The result is a much more sinister Willy. With every room they enter, Depp looks at the children the way a spider eyes flies headed toward its web. As each child falls prey to another of his traps, his lips curl into a sick, sadistic grin. You can clearly see the delight he takes in torturing spoiled Veruca Salt (Julia Winter) and her naughty friends.

In addition to the menacing Depp, Alex McDowell’s production design for Charlie is something to behold. From the collapsing shack young Bucket and his destitute family call home, to the candy-coated caverns of Wonka’s otherworldly abode, there is always something amazing to look at on the screen.

And then there are the afore-mentioned Oompa-Loompas (all played by a digitally shrunken and multiplied Deep Roy). These cocoa-loving Pygmy workers come from far away Loompaland and have a flair for production numbers.

You heard me: production numbers.

After each bad child’s punishment comes a new and exciting dance sequence. Burton’s friend and long-time collaborator Danny Elfman takes the chants from Dahl’s book and sets them to four different styles of music, making this Chocolate Factory a treat for the ears as well as the eyes.

This is one of Director Tim Burton’s best efforts–a malicious treat for the twisted child in us all. If it is successful, perhaps Warner Brothers will give Depp and Burton a chance to take on Dahl’s second Charlie novel: Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. I hope they do. Call me a glutton, but now that I’ve had my first taste of this world, I want more!

4.5 out of 5 stars.