**½/**** Image A Sound A Extras C
starring Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter
screenplay by John August, based on the novel by Roald Dahl
directed by Tim Burton
by Walter Chaw The first hour is so obsessively faithful to the Roald Dahl source material that I was lulled into believing that Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was going to be a classic, a magnificent return to form for the dark fantasist who, once upon a time, denied Edward Scissorhands a happy ending, and let the Headless Horseman come back for the little kid under the floorboards. The set design of little Charlie's hovel on the edge of an industrial town is stunning--a throwback to the German Expressionism of Burton's Vincent and, in its canted walls, the best of its kind since The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Thus the tragedy and the irony of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's return to earth is that its ultimate mediocrity has a lot to do with the addition of a worthless backstory that draws it closer to Burton's auteur tendencies and away from Dahl's cruel, austere master plots. Burton's loner-punk heroes (Edward Scissorhands, Bruce Wayne, Pee-Wee, Ichabod Crane, Ed Wood), see, live alone or in a metaphor for isolation, divorced from their horror-legend father figures (Vincent Price, Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi, now Christopher Lee) and largely failing to hide their disfigurements while struggling to achieve a semblance of "ordinariness" in their familial relationships. (Even the demon Beetlejuice has a moment where he throws his arms around his victims and yells, "C'mon, we're simpatico here!") At their core, Burton's films are by and large hopeful--bittersweet or piquant, they're consistently portraits of misfits with dreams. But until Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, they hadn't been trite or, perish the thought, fearful.