Adventure Comedy

Review: ‘Wonka’ is a Dazzling, Candy-Colored Spectacle with a Heartwarming, Emotional Center

December 14, 2023Ben MK

One of author Roald Dahl's most beloved and timeless creations, Willy Wonka is a character who has held a special place in moviegoers' hearts for decades. From Gene Wilder's legendary portrayal in 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to Johnny Depp's offbeat reinvention in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the list of actors who have played the iconic role is a short but memorable one. And now, with Wonka, it's Timothée Chalamet’s turn, as Paddington director Paul King sets out to tell the never-before-told origin story of literature's most famous chocolatier.

Set in early 20th century London, the prequel follows Willy Wonka (Chalamet), a bright-eyed young inventor who arrives in England with no more than 12 silver sovereign to his name. Raised by his mother (Sally Hawkins) on a boat that traversed faraway jungle rivers, Willy grew up with a love for chocolate. And now that he's on his own, he intends to share his passion with others, by taking his confectionery creations to the sweet-toothed masses who gather daily at the Gallery Gourmet. With little more than the clothes on his back and a small suitcase that houses his very own portable chocolate factory, Willy aims to revolutionize the candy industry with treats made from such unique ingredients as distilled sunshine, exotic insects, and even the bittersweet tears of a Russian clown. However, when he runs out of pocket money and finds himself destitute, his plan takes a unexpected detour, as he's offered room and board by unscrupulous innkeeper Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Colman), who tricks Willy into signing a legal document that forces him to spend the rest of his years slaving away as one her staff.

Befriending an orphan named Noodles (Calah Lane), former accountant Abacus (Jim Carter), plumber Piper (Natasha Rothwell), phone operator Lottie (Rakhee Thakrar) and stand-up comedian Larry (Rich Fulcher), who, like him, find themselves victims of Mrs. Scrubbit's dastardly scheme, Willy must come up with an ingenious new plan that allows him to sneak out to sell his chocolates, in the hopes that he'll one day be able to own his own shop at the Gallery Gourmet. What he doesn't count on, though, is the Chocolate Cartel — a monopoly comprised of London's three top chocolate makers, Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton) and Prodnose (Matt Lucas) — who have other plans in mind when it comes to the competition. Enlisting the services of the corrupt Chief of Police (Keegan-Michael Key) and a chocolate-loving cleric (Rowan Atkinson), the Chocolate Cartel is determined to prevent Willy from making a name for himself. But despite their vast resources, will they be able to stop him from doing the one thing that he does best — sharing his love for chocolate with the world?

Throw in a lyrically inclined Oompa Loompa with a mean streak (Hugh Grant), and you have the makings of a brand new cinematic favorite, as King and fellow Paddington 2 screenwriter Simon Farnaby take Dahl's 1964 novel and dream up an inventive, endearing and wondrous new spin on its classic lead character. Bursting with a plethora of singalong-worthy musical numbers, family-friendly comedy, and more visually resplendent set pieces than you can shake a candy-themed walking stick at, the result is chock-full of everything viewers might expect from a film bearing the surname of the planet's most famous fictitious chocolate maker. Most importantly, though, Wonka is brimming with genuine heart. And while it's certainly a dazzling spectacle to behold, it's the movie's sincere emotional core that proves the most enduring once the credits begin to roll.

Of course, a great deal of the film's lasting appeal can be attributed to Chalamet himself. And although Wonka marks the 27-year-old actor's musical comedy debut, the sheer caliber of his crowdpleasing performance is more than enough to make moviegoers hopeful for a follow-up. Suffice to say, only time will tell if Willy Wonka will one day gift viewers with another candy-colored, big screen adventure. Until then, audiences young and old will be plenty preoccupied with trying to get the Oompa Loompa song out of their heads.

Wonka releases December 15th, 2023 from Warner Bros. Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for some violence, mild language and thematic elements. Its runtime is 1 hr. 56 min.

You May Also Like