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Burton Finds the Darker Side of Willy Wonka

Director Tim Burton confesses that when it comes to confections, he likes "dark, bitter chocolate." His version of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is dark and, if not exactly bitter, unapologetically strange. You won't be able to take your eyes off the screen; but that doesn't mean you'll always be happy with what you're seeing. Even with Burton's soul mate Johnny Depp in the starring role.

In theory, this Burton-Dahl teaming sounded as unassailable as Laurel and Hardy. The director's oddball credits include everything from Edward Scissorhands to Ed Wood. That seemed the ideal match for a writer who has been described as having "a taste for cruelty, rudeness to adults and the comic grotesque."

But though Dahl is all that and more, the reason his novel has sold 13 million copies in 32 languages is that its overall tone is completely genial, even affable. This ability to mix opposites, to be welcoming as well as weird, is Dahl's gift as a writer. Though Burton's breathtaking visual imagination is on constant display, that genial sensibility is more than he can manage.

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Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.
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