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Wonka (Movie) – Review

In 1964, the children’s novel by Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was released and became one of the biggest-selling books of all time. The book tells the story of the young Charlie Bucket and his adventures inside a chocolate factory, owned by the eccentric chocolatier, Willy Wonka. It was later adapted and brought to the big screen, first with 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder and directed by Mel Stuart, making the titular character a pop culture icon, and it’s one of the greatest movies in Hollywood history.

In 2005, director Tim Burton did his own take on the story, and Johnny Depp stepped into the shoes of Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was more accurate to the novel and received great praise from critics. Now, in 2023, Timothée Chalamet dons the top hat as a younger Willy Wonka to tell the origin story of the iconic chocolatier in Wonka, directed by Paul King, and now showing in cinemas worldwide.

A young and poor Willy Wonka arrives by boat in a big city somewhere in Europe renowned for its chocolate, seeking to fulfil his dreams of opening his own chocolate shop at the Galeries Gourmet. After receiving high praise from the townsfolk for his own unique and innovative brand of chocolate, made with only the finest of ingredients, rival chocolatiers, Arthur Slugworth, Prodnose, and Fickelgruber, see Wonka as a threat to their chocolate businesses and have all his earnings confiscated by the Chief-of-Police.

While staying at the laundromat owned by the devious Mrs. Scrubbit, and her henchman, Bleacher, Wonka isn’t able to afford rent and is forced to work 10,000 days in the launderette to repay his debt. There he meets others who had their own hopes and dreams, and unfortunately, suffer the same fate. He also suspects that while asleep, his chocolate is being stolen by a mysterious little orange man. After reminiscing about his late mother, an amazing chocolatier in her day, Willy Wonka reinvigorates his passion and will do whatever it takes to follow his dream.

The trailers leading up to the film’s release did enough to create some intrigue but they didn’t quite set expectations high – a lot of the attention seemed to be on Hugh Grant starring as an Oompa-Loompa, and immediately being compared to the previous two film adaptations wasn’t helping either. Actually seeing the film changes all of that, and Timothée Chalamet really lights up the screen as the younger Willy Wonka.

His portrayal is brimming with personality as he acts, sings, and dances. His positive outlook on life really rubs off on everyone around him, even those who aren’t fond of him and do their best to not show it. There is never a moment where Chalamet looks out of his comfort zone. He really makes this role his own; he isn’t trying to be Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp. His performance in this prequel film is well and truly going to be one of the biggest highlights of his career.

While Wonka takes centre stage, the rest of the ensemble cast get their memorable moments throughout the film. The rival chocolatiers, Arthur Slugworth, Prodnose, and Fickelgruber, are played by Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas, and Mathew Baynton respectively. They serve as the main villains, each with their own personalities and funny quirks, with Slugworth leading the pack, and one of the few characters who also appears in the other two films. Paterson Joseph’s portrayal also really makes the character his own, even during moments when he doesn’t speak, his facial expressions alone tell the audience so much about what’s on his mind. His performance is just another of the best-kept secrets of this film.

Calah Lane as Noodle, Jim Carter as Abacus Crunch, Natasha Rothwell as Piper Benz, Rich Fulcher as Larry Chucklesworth, and Rakhee Thakrar as Lottie Bell make up the other residents, or more appropriately, the unfortunate slaves at the laundromat. They all had their own hopes and dreams before ending up at the laundromat, and audiences will really sympathise with them. They also have their own unique and diverse personalities, showing plenty of character development after being inspired by Wonka and deciding to help him on his journey.

Amongst them, the film focuses more on Noodle, a teenage girl who never knew her real parents and hopes to see them again someday. Calah Lane’s performance does a fantastic job of showing how she goes from someone who has nowhere to go but is inspired by the positive energy of Wonka, who takes it upon himself to help her find her parents. This is actually the breakthrough role for the 14-year-old actress, which will likely lead to bigger things.

Olivia Colman and Tom Davis portray Mrs Scrubbit and Bleacher, who run the laundromat where many are tricked into working in the launderette to pay off their debts. They both are classic stereotypical British villains and aren’t exactly easy on the eyes with their raggedy clothes, dirty skin, messy hair, and ungodly teeth. They bring in a lot of humour and memorable moments, even if they’re uncomfortable to watch.

Keegan-Michael Key stars as the chief of police, secretly working with the corrupt chocolatiers, having an unhealthy obsession with chocolate – no matter who it’s from. Rowan Atkinson stars as Father Julius, a priest who isn’t as faithful as you’d expect, and even though he only appears a few times throughout the film, he still has some of the most hilarious moments in true Rowan Atkinson fashion. Sally Hawkins portrays Wonka’s late mother in some really touching flashback moments, and Hugh Grant stars as Lofty, the Oompa-Loompa suspected of stealing Wonka’s chocolate that’s meant to turn his fortune around.

Leading up to the film’s release, there was a lot of talk about the controversial casting of a normal-sized actor and the use of CGI instead of an actual short actor like the other two movies did for the Oompa-Loompas. The same controversy is also being carried over into the upcoming live-action remake of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, due to Peter Dinklage’s statements believing short actors shouldn’t be cast as short characters and that they need to be progressive, despite many short actors actually wanting these roles.

In saying that however, Hugh Grant actually does put it in a very entertaining and memorable performance as an Oompa-Loompa, but surprisingly, doesn’t appear in the film that much, despite being a big part of every trailer.

The overall look and presentation throughout the entire film is bright and colourful, even during its darkest moments. The late 1800s-like European architecture is the perfect setting for all the diverse characters who populate the city. The interiors of the offices, church, and laundromat have so much detail, and the chocolate shop looks just as rich and possibly even as delicious as the chocolate themselves.

They look so good on screen that it’s a shame we can’t reach in and have it for ourselves. Being a musical film, there is also plenty of singing and dancing, further adding to the positive and uplifting experience of the film, something that also wasn’t highlighted much in the trailers, and making it another big surprise.

With a large cast of high-profile stars and young up-and-coming talent, it is astounding that it manages to fit everyone in and give them their time to shine on screen, whether their parts are big or small. Timothée Chalamet shines the brightest, without outshining everyone else, especially Calah Lane, and her role in this film looks to set her up for bigger things in the future. Seeing how the positive and uplifting energy of Willy Wonka inspires everyone around him is something that the film does well, and Chalamet’s performance exceeds all expectations.

Being an origin movie really helps set it apart from the other two films, and it’s done so well that it can really be enjoyed on its own without needing to make comparisons. Wonka really is a marvel to behold on screen. It’s full of surprises and a story as sweet as the chocolate.

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The Good

  • Timothée Chalamet’s portrayal of Willy Wonka making it his own
  • Large ensemble cast all getting their memorable moments
  • Bright and colourful set pieces with 1800s like European architecture
  • So much positive energy
  • Full of surprises

The Bad

  • Controversial casting of a normal sized actor as an Oompa-Loompa
  • Not being able to reach into the screen and eat the chocolate

Written by: Sammy Hanson


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