On paper, Tim Burton seems the ideal filmmaker for a remake of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," penned by Roald Dahl in 1964. For one thing, Mr. Burton has shown a fabulous visual imagination in his best movies, such as "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" and the first two "Batman" pictures. For another, the director of "Edward Scissorhands" and "Ed Wood" is a certified expert at working with Johnny Depp, whose talent just grows and grows.
On the screen, Burton turns out to be the ideal filmmaker for this deliciously bizarre yarn. He's given free rein to his fantasies in past movies, but rarely as wittily and consistently as he does here. Or as vividly - which means parents should have a look before taking very young viewers to what's sometimes a patented Burton frightmare.
As fans of Dahl know, the hero is Charlie Bucket, who lives with his parents and grandparents in a house so ramshackle you expect it to tumble down at any moment. Their village's pride and joy is Willy Wonka's candy factory.
Years ago Willy laid off his employees, though, raising the mystery of who manufactures his magical treats. Charlie finds out after winning a "golden ticket" that entitles him to a tour of the factory, guided by Willy himself. That's when he meets the Oompa Loompa tribe, who work in this wonderland of strange inventions.
Unfortunately, the other kids on the tour are obnoxious brats - their parents are no prizes, either - and all of them meet with (temporary) disasters brought on by their own particular failings. The ending is happy, at least for Charlie and his kin, and even Willy learns an important lesson about the importance of home and family.
Mr. Depp plays Willy as a sort of zoned-out hippie capitalist, coaxing constant smiles with his weird way of looking at the world. Freddie Highmore is first-rate as Charlie, and it was a stroke of genius to cast horror-flick specialist Christopher Lee as Willy's dad, the world's most obsessive dentist. Add a passel of slyly satirical musical numbers and you have a package as zesty as Willy's best chocolate bars.
• Rated PG; contains scary fantasy scenes.