Timothée Chalamet takes on role as famed chocolate maker in Wonka
The character of Willy Wonka is one that resonates for many thanks to Roald Dahl’s classic book and two prior big-screen adaptations in 1971 and 2005. Wonka has always been someone with a kind of dual personality, a friendly person who creates fantastical chocolates, but also who makes no apologies about the ill effects his sweets can cause should someone not follow his particular rules.
The new film Wonka looks to capitalize on nostalgia for the character, while also giving him an origin story of sorts.
Wonka (Timothée Chalamet) has dreams of selling his chocolates to the masses, but his move to the big city is thwarted by a lack of funds and a monopoly held by three other big candy makers, Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton), and Prodnose (Matt Lucas).
Wonka also falls into the trap of innkeeper Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Colman), who uses a fine-print contract to essentially imprison him and multiple others, including Noodle (Calah Lane). He and Noodle team up to try to get his confections to the masses, all the while trying to escape the machinations of the three chocolate bigwigs and the chief of police (Keegan-Michael Key). Oh, and an Oompa-Loompa (Hugh Grant) is constantly on his tail, stealing any chocolate he can get his hands on.
Directed by Paul King (Paddington) and written by King and Simon Farnaby, the film has similar charms to previous films, although Wonka himself comes off much differently. Taking a cue from Wonka’s chocolates, everything in the film resides halfway between reality and fantasy, allowing the filmmakers to tell a grounded story while still going over-the-top in certain areas.
This is especially true in the film’s various musical sequences, which include versions of “Oompa Loompa” and “Pure Imagination” from the original 1971 film, as well as a handful of new songs created for the film. King and his team give the songs appropriately colorful showcases, even if none of the new songs immediately stand out like the older familiar ones. The new songs are so plentiful, though, that it wouldn’t be a surprise for Wonka the Musical to make its way to the stage sometime soon.
As the film is acting as a prequel, the story naturally holds few surprises, hanging its hat instead on the various relationships. Wonka and Noodle are an okay pairing, but they aren’t that enthralling. The three chocolatiers and the chief of police have a fun co-dependent thing going on, but the best couple goes to Mrs. Scrubbit and her henchman, who deliver big laughs with an unexpected romance.
Chalamet has a lot going for him in the film, acting-, looks-, and singing-wise, but the hard edge that prior Wonkas Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp brought to the character is missing. Chalamet maintains a friendliness at all times that makes for a different experience. Almost everyone else, save for Lane, goes big with their performances, with Colman and Key succeeding the most.
Wonka doesn’t quite make the case that it was a necessary addition to the lore of the beloved character, but it’s a pleasant watch that, if nothing else, gives cause for viewers to revisit the previous incarnations.
Wonka opens in theaters on December 15.