Must… resist… temptation… to start this review with an Oompa Loompa-style poem…
OK, I think I am good now.
Last month, I saw a film that was a prequel to a very popular franchise with young adults across the world and was fascinated by how it was able to function on its own without beating me over the head that it was a prequel. This is the trap that this age of prequels has done, and for it to take this long for a film to truly be able to do that was nothing short of fascinating. However, I am now able to say that twice in a row with Wonka.
Taking place as the famed Willy Wonka (Timothée Chalamet) arrives in a bustling town that is known for its chocolatiers, he tries to stand out relying on his magical abilities, exotic ingredients, and the help of a young girl named Noodle (Calah Lane) who is caught alongside him and a handful of others in indentured servitude to Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Coleman) due to “not reading the fine print” on a one-night stay in her home. If that were not all enough, he deals with a corrupt chief of police (Keegan-Michael Key), and three rivals in Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), Prodose (Matt Lucas), and Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton, all who want to see him fail. And then there is this mysterious orange man who has an agenda of its own when it comes to the man who would become the greatest candy maker of all time…
The original source material and its sequel were two of the books that shaped my childhood, and after the remake I would like to pretend was just a fever dream I had I was a bit apprehensive going into this one. As of late, I have done my best to avoid trailers, featurettes, and the like in general in order to go into a film as cold as possible, and in this case I am glad I did. Director and co-writer Paul King (who was responsible for both of the amazing Paddington films) really understands his target audience on both sides of the spectrum with a story that is rich in character and music that didn’t seem forced alongside visuals that show a contrast in the darker colors of the city itself and its hustle-and-bustle that is everyday life while everything Wonka creates and surrounds himself with transitioning into bright and vibrant color, representing his perseverance in chasing his dreams while wanting to be an inspiration to those around him. All of this getting done in under two hours was also refreshing for me; there is little if not no fat that could be trimmed here in a story that moves along nicely.
Chalamet really embraces the Gene Wilder version of the title character without leaning to much into it to the point of impersonation. There is a hint of what Wonka will become to his performance that also he makes his own as a young man that may still have a bit of naivete to him that gets him into the predicament that serves as the catalyst to help him fulfill his destiny. The supporting cast is outstanding here as well joined by Rowan Atkinson as a priest who may not be everything he is supposed to be and the grouping of Jim Carter, Rakhee Thakrar, Natasha Rothwell, and Rich Fulcher as his fellow workers who find a way to hatch a plan that just may free all of them from the basement they are trapped in. Oh yeah, and there is Hugh Grant as that peculiar guy following Wonka across the world for reasons that are not quite noble.
Wonka is one of those films that just seems to fit in the holiday season that had me smiling ear-to-ear throughout. I kind of feel like I could watch the Gene Wilder film right after this and see a very nice connection from one to the other, and that is a very good thing. I’m gonna keep that fever dream thing intact, though.