Wonka movie poster

Wonka

In theaters December 15, 2023

Rated

,

116 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , , , ,

“I’ve got a golden ticket.” There are few songs that can instantly transport you to a time and place within a movie – in this case, to Charlie and his grandparents’ bedroom after he opens a chocolate bar that grants he and his grandfather access to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. That song and other components of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory still live large 50 years later. So it would be crazy to rewind time to discover how the aloof candy maker came to be a magical chocolatier and risk the reputation of the original, right? Well, leave it to Paddington director and screenwriter, Paul King, to take that risk and in doing so add to the allure of the candy man in the new musical fantasy film Wonka (2023).

Johnny Depp assumed the role when Tim Burton resurrected the character in 1995’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and now Timothée Chalamet assumes the titular role in the prequel. Clearly as time goes on (or backwards in this case), Wonka gets better and better looking, first with Depp and now heartthrob Chalamet.

The young Wonka is a dreamer – a result of his mom always telling him that “every good thing in this world started with a dream” – who aspires to bring chocolate to all of the world. When he lands in England to bring his dream to life, however, he is met with intense dislike by a group of chocolatiers who have established their business and don’t take kindly to the newcomer disrupting their success. Especially chocolates as magical as Wonka’s. The chocolate mafia, or the Chocolate Cartel as they’re better known, believes chocolate should be simple and they will do whatever it takes to eliminate a threat.

Meanwhile, Wonka gets himself into trouble with a giant of a man, Bleacher (Tom Davis) and Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Colman), who run a cleaning business. It’s there that he meets Noodle (newcomer Calah Lane), Abacus Crunch (Jim Carter), and a host of others beholden to the evil couple. Noodle’s role as a captive orphan often brings to mind Annie. Like Aileen Quinn in that role, Lane is perfectly cast as an adorable, intelligent girl seeking to learn where she comes from. Carter is fantastic as the elder of the indentured servants. Together they must work together to try and free themselves and help Wonka achieve his dream.

Chalamet shines as a more optimistic Wonka and has extraordinary chemistry with Lane – the duo’s duet on “For a Moment” is a highlight of the film. The two are joined by other great performances including comedian Keegan Michael-Key as the Chief of Police and Davis and Colman who are just delicious as the dastardly duo.

Despite not being an original Roald Dahl film, King and fellow Paddington screenwriter Simon Farnaby do the famed author proud by incorporating themes seen in his other works including family (Wonka’s relationship with his mother), ruthless villains (Bleacher and Mrs. Scrubbit), and power (the power of the established chocolatiers have on competition). Fans of the original will be thrilled with small easter eggs paying homage to the 1971 film. And viewers will surely be humming “A World of Your Own” as they exit the theater – an earworm worthy to live alongside songs from the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Wonka doesn’t dance away unscathed. The plot may just be too silly for many. The decision to cast Hugh Grant as Lofty, an Oompa-Loompa, is a bit odd when there are numerous little people in Hollywood who possess the talent to play the role. And by doing so, the attempts to make Grant look small come off looking a wee bit foolish as it is clear he is not of a shorter stature. With the Oompa-Loompas seen often in Wilder’s Wonka, it is disappointing that Lofty is essentially the only Oompa-Loompa in the film – a symptom of an origin story.

With all that said, Wonka is just what the 2023 holiday season needs – a charming film offering the perfect mix of music, dance, and fun for filmgoers of all ages. A magical musical sure to make you smile and perhaps even serve as a classic for a new generation.

Wonka is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Mark Eaton
Mark is an entertainment junkie, spending much of his leisure time watching movies, TV, or listening to any and all genres of music. Most evenings, after finishing a day of work and hanging with his wife and kids, Mark can be found in an eternal battle with his DVR, trying to clear it before another 5-6 hours of shows are recorded the next day. Still reeling from his unpaid gig for the Detroit News where he was fired for being too cruel with his American Idol recaps, Mark is thrilled to be sharing his wicked sense of humor with Movie Reelists.

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