WONKA – A Review by Cynthia Flores
This new film from writer/director Paul King is a semi-musical prequel to the iconic Roald Dahl book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The book was the source for the beloved 1971 film starring the late great Gene Wilder as Wonka called Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Since that is the one I saw as a kid, it is still one of my favorite films ever.
Being such a fan of the film and the story, I was nervous about this prequel that looks like a musical. According to the director, it’s not a musical but a movie with songs in it. Paul King is quoted as saying:
“The Oompa Loompas sing a lot in the book, and Dahl always uses poetry. But I didn’t want it to just become a musical where people are singing dialogue to each other for no discernible reason. I felt like it was more like a movie with songs than a musical.” He went on to say, “Chalamet’s got a beautiful singing voice. The person it reminded me of was Bing Crosby. There’s quite a range because it does go from a couple of bigger, showstopper-y sort of things to moments of real, pure emotion, and he can do it all.”
Timothee Chalamet, as Willy Wonka, brings an earnest tone to the film. Along with the visual aesthetic and set design, they honor the vision of director Mel Stuart’s 1971 classic. Unlike the less than stellar 2005 remake Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, starring an odd-looking, vamping Johhny Depp as Willy.
In this new film, Wonka, we see the backstory of the great adventurer and chocolate creator. A young, sweet-tempered Willy Wonka (Chalamet) has a hat full of dreams and a head filled with ideas to change the chocolate game and the world forever.
His love of chocolate was born from his mother (Sally Hawkins) and her tradition of making him a single chocolate bar each year for his birthday. That was all he had left of her once she passed. She also taught him about Gallery Gourmet, known worldwide for its delectable, irresistible chocolate shops. And for famous chocolatiers such as Prodnose (Matt Lucas), Fickelbruber (Mathew Baynton), and Slugworth (Patterson Joseph).
Even with hardly any money in his pockets, Willy dreams of opening a shop there, sharing his chocolate with the world. His mother would magically be with him again to enjoy his triumph. She would tell her young son, “Every good thing in this world started with a dream. So you hold on to yours.”
Willy sails into the city with his eyes set on joining the Gallery Gourmet list of shops. However, the three top chocolatiers have a hold on the chocolate game in town. With the help of a crooked police chief (Keegan-Michael Key) and a priest (Rowan Atkinson) who has sold his soul for chocolate, they run a chocolate cartel. And they don’t like any competition.
The film takes a fun twist as young Willy falls prey to a wicked hotelier (Olivia Colman) and her henchman (Tom Davis). When Willy fails to read the small print of his hotel bill, he has to work off his exaggerated bill. His new job is in a sweatshop doing laundry. There, he meets people who will change his life. A kind accountant (Jim Carter), a quiet telephone operator (Rakhee Thakrar), a loud-mouthed plumber (Natasha Rothwell), and an orphan that loves books named Noodle (Calah Lane). They all help Willy turn his dreams into reality so he can pay off their debts. All is going well until it’s not. Will WIlly make his dreams come true? Well, you can find out when you see this movie. And let’s not forget about his first encounter with an Oompa-Loompa (Hugh Grant) and why the tiny, feisty orange man with bright green hair is tracking down Willy.
Ronald Dahl wrote books with rhythmic poetry that jumped off the page about funny, ridiculous, and heartbreaking things. So, this film holds true to the spirit of Mr Dahl’s legacy. Wonka is a charming, silly, and fun movie, imagining how the great chocolatier came to be.
Some of the storylines with all the bad guys and gals tended to distract from Willy’s story. However, you can forgive a few sour notes when you have a children’s movie filled with great, well-known British actors and a few Oscar winners in the same cast doing their best to capture the innocence of dreaming big dreams.
I give Wonka 4 stars. It’s a beautiful story for children that adults will enjoy sitting through. It’s a sweet way to spend time with the family at your local theater during this holiday break.
Directed by: Paul King
Written by: Simon Farnaby, Paul King, Roald Dahl
Selig Rating: 4 Stars
Running Time: 1hr 56min
Fantasy/ Comedy/ Family
Theatrical Wide Release: December 15th
Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Hugh Grant, Rowan Atkinson, Sally Hawkins, Matt Lucas, Mathew Baynton, Olivia Colman, Calah Lane
The Selig Rating Scale:
5 Stars – Excellent movie/show, well worth the time and price.
4 Stars – Good movie/show
3 Stars – OK movie/show
2 Stars – Well, there was nothing else…
1 Star – Total waste of time.