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‘Wonka’ Ignores Gene Wilder, Crafts Spry Origin Story

Timothee Chalamet works overtime to enchant without capturing iconic role

No one can top Gene Wilder’s performance in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”

Silly. Twisted. Funny. Bemused. Dark.

Johnny Depp came up short in 2005’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” also inspired by Roald Dahl’s beloved book.

Now, Timothée Chalamet plays the chocolatier in “Wonka,” a prequel with the good sense to not even try.

That, plus luring “Paddington” director Paul King to steer the ship, proved the best decisions behind the charming saga.

WONKA | Official Trailer

Chalamet plays a young Willy Wonka, eager to start his candy company in a big, unnamed city. His pure heart is no match for the crusty locals. Candy overlords don’t want the competition, and they sic the police on poor Willy.

Even worse?

A pair of scoundrels (Olivia Colman, Tom Davis) trick Willy into slaving away at their hotel (“Scrub, Scrub!”), threatening to derail the young man’s dreams for decades.

The wily young man will find a way, and it might include a few musical numbers.

Yes, “Wonka” is a musical, and while it won’t dislodge “The Greatest Showman” from anyone’s mind the songs are sweet and catchy. The choreography isn’t revelatory, but it perfectly suits the material and tone.

Chalamet’s voice is, well, adequate, and you’ll wish the filmmakers plucked a lesser-known star with an instrument worthy of the franchise.

Oh, well. That’s show biz!

Chalamet’s dramatic chops prove superior, even if you can sense how hard he’s working to conjure Willy’s whimsical nature.

Wonka Movie Clip - My Creation (2023)

The film’s villains are oversized and appropriately vile. Keegan-Michael Key scores a few chuckles as a cop addicted to sugary treats. Cue the outrage over his fat costume…

“Wonka’s” secret weapon is Hugh Grant as, wait for it, an Oompa Loompa. The CGI required to make Grant Loompa-sized is seamless and leaves us with a crooked grin on our faces.

Grant can do no wrong these days, and he deserves more screen time.

Chalamet’s Wonka bears a heavy burden despite his cheery exterior. He misses his sweet Mum (Sally Hawkins) who taught him everything he knows about chocolate making. The subplot adds some grit to the story, suggesting the Wonka antihero we’ll meet in Wilder’s 1971 films.

Otherwise, there’s little connective tissue from this Wonka to the real cinematic deal. That doesn’t mean “Wonka” ignores the source material. You’ll hear some musical callbacks to the original film along with dialogue meant to fire up our nostalgia circuits.

“Strike that. Reverse it.”

Cute. Much like “Wonka.”

HiT or Miss: “Wonka” is a welcome surprise, a prequel that neither taints the source material nor disappoints hardcore fans.

8 Comments

  1. “nor leaves audience unsatisfied.”

    That’s a double negative.

    It might be good, but hardly satisfying after seeing Gene Wilder’s performance.

  2. I enjoyed the film, but wish it had a few hints of Wonka’s later mistrust of his fellow human beings. Just a hint. Chalamet is super likable, but I think I would have looked for someone better suited to the part. 1 or 2 songs that stick with you could really elevate it too, what they have doesn’t ever rise out of mediocrity.

  3. Sounds nice enough, and I’ll be sure to catch it once it hits the streaming services. But truth be told I’d very much prefer a story about what Charlie Bucket did with Willy Wonka’s legacy.

  4. I am glad you thought the overall film was worthwhile. It really was a delight. The lead;s vocals were more than adequate for the part. I saw it twice (once with a daughter and last night with my wife and my son) and surprisingly really enjoyed the 2nd time as well. As stated in the pluggedin.com review — “…you can be sure that I went into my Wonka viewing with complete indifference. And by the time I left, I can honestly say that I was pleasantly surprised, both by the plot and by a number of jokes that actually made me laugh out loud. I found myself enjoying Wonka more than I thought I would.”

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. It’s hard NOT to be skeptical about a project like this, but sometimes filmmakers can bully past those sentiments. Disney should hire this filmmaker and see if he can sprinkle similar magic over upcoming Mouse House movies.

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