The Michael Jackson pallor. The unnaturally white teeth. The smile stretched with insincerity. Johnny Depp’s deliciously demented take on Willy Wonka, the candy man of Roald Dahl’s book, demands to be seen. Director Tim Burton surrounds Depp with miraculous visuals of spun sugar and creeping menace. Their missionary lunacy is a treat for twisted children of all ages.
Wonka hasn’t socialized with humankind in the fifteen years since he closed his London chocolate factory. Now he has opened the place to five children, each allowed to bring one relative. “Good morning, hine, the earth says hello,” he tells the invitees, who are freaked by Wonka’s retro hair and overbright voice. And how about that army of Oompa-Loompas, all played by Deep Roy, in musical numbers that appear to have been choreographed by Busby Berkeley on crack. The kids are selfish brats, except for Charlie Bucket, played with open-faced honesty by Freddie Highmore, Depp’s Peter Pan surrogate in Finding Neverland.
Gene Wilder put a blunt comic edge on Wonka in the underrated 1971 musical version. But Depp goes deeper to find the bruises on Wonka’s secret heart. Hint: Wonka’s dad (the fab Christopher Lee) was a dentist. Depp and Burton fly too high on the vapors of pure imagination. But it’s hard to not get hooked on something this tasty.