Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which has been faithfully adapted from Roald Dahl’s great 1964 children’s novel, is a delectably sustained flight of fancy. It’s filled with puckish, deranged Burton touches, like the all-singing, all-melting puppets that herald Wonka’s arrival, but it’s also a grand and transporting celebration of the primal pleasures of childhood — namely, family and candy. As Wonka gives five children, who have all found his Golden Tickets, a tour of his famous factory, with its edible garden and chocolate waterfall, its kooky sci-fi chambers for testing out revolutionary new delights, he makes no secret of the fact that with the possible exception of Charlie (Freddie Highmore), a modest English lad as gracious as he is poor, he despises them all. He has good reason: The other children are brats, pigs, rich little bullies of entitlement. Burton gives us acidly funny new versions of the spoiled-rotten monsters you may remember from the 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory — big babies like the German porker Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), the spiteful princess Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), and the television (now videogame) sociopath Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry). If anything, they seem timelier now, in an era when so many kids do get everything they want. As Wonka vents his disdain, though, it’s still a comic shock to see an adult interact with children as if they were something he’d prefer to be roasting on a spit.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory revives, in a sassier but more artful way, the pixilated whimsy of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The earlier film was driven, of course, by the creepy cuddliness of Gene Wilder — the smile of cozy dimpled warmth giving way to hysteria, then snapping back. Burton and Depp push Wonka further, making him into a sinister enigma, and in flashbacks to his childhood we see how he got that way: His father (Christopher Lee), a dentist, treated candy like poison and forced the boy to wear a torture chamber of a head brace. If that all sounds a bit Freudian, what it does is turn the entire film into a fairy-tale meditation on our relationship to candy: why it’s wrong to love it too little, or too much.