My first thought when I saw advertisements for “Wonka” was … why? In a world already oversaturated with reboots, prequels and remakes, were the masses really crying out for another story from this particular franchise? I was also skeptical of Timothée Chalamet being cast as Willy, because he seems to lack the inherent weirdness or wackiness needed for the character. I was pleasantly surprised by what a delightful, sugary tale “Wonka” was.
Roald Dahl tales (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Matilda”) are often Dickensian in nature: children living in poor and exploitative conditions against a bleak industrial backdrop, with just a pinch of magic among the mess to give the characters hope of escaping, or rectifying the wrongs of their situations. “Wonka” captures that aesthetic extremely well and delivers far more than just a pinch of magic and wonder. The costumes, sets and backgrounds are wonderfully thought out, with the grubby, very grimy and the colorful absolutely delightful. It feels like a well-written fanfiction - an alternative creation in the same universe that keeps to all the principles of the original.
Almost all the musical numbers are unique, but they’re catchy and well written, well worthy of being performed next to the originals - the “Scrub Scrub” song is still stuck in my head. Chalamet brought a surprising twinkle and earnestness to the role. He’s not quite reached the level of plotting or bitterness as the Gene Wilder Wonka, and he’s not completely off the wall like the Johnny Depp Wonka - he’s a very appropriate Wonka for the prequel, a younger and resourceful man with dreams of bringing delight to children and the wider world.
As in many Dahl stories, adult themes are present, though packaged in a way children can understand and work with. Wonka just wants to share something so seemingly innocent with the public, and he is so loveable that you, of course, want him to succeed - but he faces a corrupt police chief and monopolizing industrialists who scheme at every turn to suppress his genius in favor of their own profits. However, it’s not gritty or overly dark as can be the trend these days - it’s still a kids’ film with age-appropriate jokes and gags. There are genuinely tear-jerking, difficult moments throughout the story when Wonka faces unfair challenges and sabotage, but there is resolution and a bit of a lesson for children to learn and adults to remember.
Chalamet did a lovely, joyful rendition of Wonka (and yes, he can sing). Hugh Grant had me laughing as the Oompa Loompa, and a cast of staple English supporting actors (James Carter, Olivia Colman, Rowan Atkinson) are solid. Keegan Michael Key brings some comic relief. The little girl, Noodle (Calah Lane), is delightful.
“Wonka” is a worthy sequel in the franchise and well worth taking the whole family to see (though be prepared - both you and your children will desperately want some chocolate afterward).
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