With these two contemporary cinema smart guys doing their thing, why, I have to ask, is Charlie And The Chocolate Factory so mildly disappointing? The movie never quite smashes through. There’s a distance to the goings-on, a reluctance to gather up and appreciate the whimsy and weirdness that made The Nightmare Before Christmas such a joy. The new movie is closer to the plot of Roald Dahl's book than the 1971-film version that starred Gene Wilder. That work’s entitled Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, and it has more giddy music and more maniacally colorful settings than the new version. I think Burton got tripped up on the sensibility of the original book. He misinterpreted it. Burton’s tale is almost like revisiting a dark and foreboding Charles Dickens book than it is visiting an imaginative, mystical candyland.

Dahl’s 1964 novel has sold millions of copies in more than 30 languages. Kids love it. Dahl is able to take children on a stroll through a giddy landscape, filled with a few mild frights, but rife with lessons about life. Burton doesn’t know how to be genial. He has doesn’t seem to realize that opposites attract. He looks at the sober side and forgets the giggles. This is a kid’s movie, after all.

My reaction to the movie was one of slowly increasing ennui. The movie takes 30 minutes or so to get into Wonka’s candy factory, and then the five kids who’ve won golden tickets to go on the special tour each get their moment in the sun. It’s all so mechanical. Kid one: do your thing. Kid two: do your thing. Kid three: do your thing. Etc. The casting of the picture is good, but nobody really goes kapow. Depp plays Wonka like a cross between Michael Jackson and Boy George with a dash of Carol Channing thrown in. He’s off-the-wall in the looks department, but he underplays to the point of boredom. A few lines of dialogue click, but the script doesn’t really take us anywhere. The adventure is already preordained. By the end of the movie, as it inched toward the two-hour mark, I was eager to call it quits. The colors were pretty, the Oompa-Loompas who work in the candy factory were clever and added a nice touch of oddness to the proceedings, and it was nice to see a lesson about family togetherness taught to today’s increasingly unfocused children. But the movie failed to deliver two things very vital: energy and passion. The whole enterprise was more Pot Rock than Acid Rock. Even the squirrel nutcracking team was disappointing. They never broke through.

However, I will say this. The audience with whom I saw the movie numbered around 400 people and about half of them were children. I sensed that only a few of the kids were bored. A goodly number of my nieces and nephews were in the crowd and they all liked it. Their ages ranged from 3-years old to 16. In fact, the three-year old was held rapt by the film. He never fidgeted, never talked, never took his eyes off the screen. Maybe Charlie, and Wonka, and company spoke something to him that they didn’t speak to me. Freddie Highmore, who is terrific as Charlie, is a talented lad and has a great future. I also liked David Kelly as his grandfather. But Danny Elfman’s music is in a rut.

There’s a slight mystery in the movie. Why is Willy so obsessed with candy? If it’s really because his father was a dentist and forbade chocolate when the lad was a child, I demand a rewrite. That’s a soggy ending to a slightly soggy film. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor

It’s not difficult to state the obvious about director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp. Both are immensely talented men who relish taking a walk on the wild side when the subject matter suits them. It would seem, then, that the movie Charlie And The Chocolate Factory would be a marriage made in quirky heaven. Burton has visionary gifts that more often than not guarantee that you won’t be able to take your eyes off the movie screen. Depp is one of the few actor’s working today who has the ability to disappear into a character so completely that you wonder if the actor will ever be able to return