“Wonka” is the musical origin story of the classic movie based on the book “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” It stars Timothée Chalamet as Willie Wonka. He’s a magician, inventor, and chocolatier who dreams of opening his chocolate factory. Surprisingly, the film has enough new ideas and charm that allow it to stand on its own, and not falter back to Gene Wilder’s Wonka of 1971.
Director and co-writer Paul King, who brought us two huge hits with Paddington and Paddington 2, creates a musical story that showcases clever humor and a whimsical make-believe world. Hugh Grant is hysterical as ever as the green-haired, orange-skinned, tiny character Oompa Loompa; his arrogant, judgmental demeanor and quick wit are endearing.
Willy Wonka’s tale begins as he arrives by ship to a city after sailing the world perfecting his chocolate creations and ready to spend his 12 silver sovereigns establishing himself in the Galerie Gourmet. In this place, all the great chocolatiers go to sell their wares. Unfortunately, on his first night, he is tricked by two villains, Mrs. Scrubitt (Olivia Colman) and Mr. Bleacher (Tom Davis). They offer him room and board, although he didn’t read the fine print and is trapped in a dreadful debt. Other victims are also working to pay off their debt by washing clothes in the Scrubitt & Bleacher’s laundry. The story has shades of forced child labor and human trafficking. An orphaned girl named Noodle (Calah Lane) has been trapped in the laundry since she was a baby.
The optimistic Willy believes his chocolate recipe will make enough money to pay off not only his debts, but those of Noodle and the others working in the laundry. Noodle does help him escape to the Galerie Gourmet. Although he discovers a new set of problems, the chocolate cartel and the big candy barons Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), Prodnose (Matt Lucas), and Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton), they have a tight hold on the market. And control the leading cleric, Father Julius (Rowan Atkinson), and the chocoholic police chief (Keegan-Michael Key).
Adding to Willy’s problems is the little orange man following him around and trying to steal his chocolates. Yes, Hugh Grant sometimes steals the show, as he did in “Paddington 2.”
Not to dismiss the fact that “Wonka” is a full-throated musical, with songs written by Neil Hannon (the leading creator of the Northern Ireland band The Divine Comedy). Chalamet does very well with all of his songs; he has a sincerity in his vocal deliverance that makes him our hero. When Willy daydreams back to his mother (Sally Hawkins) and her lessons in the happiness of chocolate making.
“Wonka” is an entertaining, dazzling movie that families will have a great time humming along while munching on their favorite holiday treats.
Sarah Knight Adamson© December 17, 2023