July 25, 2005 12:00 PM

Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore

Timing is everything. This close to the recently concluded Michael Jackson trial, it’s just plain off-putting—at least for adults—to watch a movie in which an oddly childlike man wearing his hair in a Prince Valiant bob and dressed in a foppish, high-collared velvet waistcoat cozies up to children by offering them a tour through his chocolate factory.

The creepy confectioner is Willy Wonka (Depp), the mysterious figure at the center of director Tim Burton’s overwrought adaptation of Roald Dahl’s dark 1964 kids’ book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (The 1971 screen version was called Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.) The film begins promisingly enough, introducing viewers to likable Charlie Bucket (Highmore), a poor boy who lives contentedly with his folks (Noah Taylor and Helena Bonham Carter) in a lopsided shack in the middle of a city. But once Charlie and his grandpa (David Kelly) go to visit Wonka’s factory—Charlie, along with four other children, wins the tour as a prize in a contest—the movie turns into an overbudgeted bore. Garish production numbers, all seemingly influenced by Devo’s “Whip It” video, follow one upon the other, and the heart of the story gets lost. Depp, showing no depth here, lets his makeup, costume and a silly chipmunky voice do all the work. (PG)

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