When it comes to Willy Wonka, no one was asking for a prequel, especially after the madness that was Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Who could blame them? Considering that Gene Wilder’s original performance of Rohl Dahl’s candyman and Chocolatier Willy Wonka cannot be topped, this film wasn’t too high on anyone’s list. Still, here we are with Warner Bros. new film, Wonka, starring Timothée Chalamet as the starring character in his youth, about to open his first sweets shop. Once you get through the hard shell, you do see the sweet, gooey centre of something really special.
Wonka is simply described as the story of Willy Wonka’s beginnings, wanting to break into the Gallerie Gourmet with nothing but a handful of sovereigns and a hatful of dreams. Wonka prides himself in the appearance of both a magician and a chocolatier, fusing them to create marvellous scenes and spectacles like chocolates that can make you fly or even bring back memories or feelings of happy times in one’s life. With the assistance of a young girl named Noodle and a rag-tag band of misfits that were tricked into servitude like Wonka, relying on the generosity of others, Wonka makes his strides toward making his goal of owning his candy shop of his own.
Bearing in mind that this is well before the creation and shuttering of the famous Wonka chocolate factory from the books and films, it does seem to undermine the suspense of the narrative because we all know the result. Still, the scenes are incredibly fun and a wonderful time on the screen. Wonka prides itself as a musical film, even more so than the original, and the opening number is proof of that, even with the borrowed notoriety of “Pure Imagination,” which is arguably the most well-known Wonka-themed song. So if you’re not into musical breaks and scenes of daydreaming and fantasy, it’s going to leave a bad taste in your mouth.
However, I loved it. The songs pulled me into the world of Wonka’s spectacles and between the bites of all the sweets I brought with me to the theatre, I was hooked on watching how Wonka managed to outwit the Chocolate Cartel, a band of grumpy businessmen determined to run Wonka out of town to keep their stranglehold on the chocolate trade in the town. The supporting cast of British film stars like Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Grant, and Olivia Colman also helps elevate the greatness of the ensemble working together in each scene.
Each song was a delight and it reminded me a lot of the soundtrack from The Greatest Showman which felt a lot more enjoyable with the fictional chocolatier instead of the problematic P.T. Barnum. A notable addition to the soundtrack is one song that describes a character with a “Sweet Tooth,” which given his role sounds more like an adult allegory for a crooked cop with a nasal problem, lured into some dirty dealings from the devious Chocolate Cartel. Coming from the director of Paddington and Paddington 2, I was not disappointed with the creation of this sugar-coated fantasy on the screen.
Down to the core of the film, Chalamet is no Gene Wilder. While the original Willy Wonka was whimsical and fun, if not a little frightening at times, and Johnny Depp’s presentation in Charlie showed more of the madness and nonsense of the candyman, Chalamet’s Wonka is a bit of both, not too mad but not unapproachable. His flaws and quirks carry the narrative into the character that we need to get used to, but it’s not a bad performance by any means. Once again, his musical performances are one of the highlights of the movie, carefully wrapped into the magical package.
Overall, this is a movie that really didn’t need to be made but I’m thankful that it exists all the same. Noodle is more than just a replacement for the childlike wonder that Charlie fulfils in the original story and Wonka’s beginnings put his love for chocolate and sharing that happiness with the world into a new perspective, even if it does lead us into a sequel where we see Wonka’s vision of his grand chocolate factory sooner rather than later, given it’s success at the box office.
I give Wonka a score of four out of five tickets. While it might not be to everyone’s tastes, Wonka gives you that warm, gooey feeling with every scene and song, leaving you feeling joyful as you leave the cinema.
Wonka is out in cinemas worldwide now.