Wonka (2023)
Wonka (2023)

Genre: Fantasy and Musical Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.

Release Date: December 15th, 2023 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Paul King Actors: Timothee Chalamet, Tom Davis, Olivia Colman, Calah Lane, Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas, Mathew Baynton, Keegan-Michael Key, Freya Parker, Sally Hawkins, Rowan Atkinson

 


 

A

fter years at sea, Willy Wonka (Timothee Chalamet) arrives upon a European shore, determined to be a successful candy-maker and candy-monger (he’s also a bit of an inventor and magician). It’s finally time to show the world his chocolate recipe, which he’s certain will bless him with success and fortune. Unfortunately, he’s temporarily short on silver sovereigns, which puts him squarely in the sights of various con-people – like the conniving Mrs. Scrubitt (Olivia Colman) and her hefty henchman Bleacher (Tom Davis).

“I’ve got nothing to offer but my chocolate.” Very much patterned at the start like a take on “Oliver Twist,” the film soon transitions into quite the otherworldly fantasy, as Wonka sings and dances and magically conjures candies that possess strange powers – such as the ability to fly. Despite not needing to spend funds on ingredients (he’s already acquired the necessary bittersweet tears of a Russian clown for his caramel, and the condensed thunderclouds for his silvery nougat), room and board are a different matter, which, thanks to the small print on Scrubitt’s contract, turns the aspiring chocolatier into an indebted servant of a slavish wash house.

“What a pair of monsters.” Brimming with colorful characters adorned with tongue-twisting names, the Roald Dahl airiness is evident, even during sentimental flashbacks of deceased relatives or dour orphan yearnings, and an underground meeting of conspiratorial price-fixers and bribed judicial muscle. It’s consistently whimsical and silly, though it leans heavily into its dreamy reveries, depending on CG additives (the best, or perhaps most egregious, example is Hugh Grant as an Oompa-Loompa) and insincere asides to tackle the weightier conflicts. With so much fantasy, it’s difficult to take the predicaments with anything but a grain of salt, especially with “Mission: Impossible”-types of secret, subterraneous sugar vats guarded by a corrupt cleric (Rowan Atkinson), an army of chocoholic monks, and a basement-dwelling ninja sentry (culminating in a James Bond-like showdown), which must be defeated in a high-stakes infiltration.

Nevertheless, this Wonka origin story (goofily labeled “A Paul King Confection”) boasts likable characters, inventive sets, and some genuinely funny ideas – including the chief of police (Keegan-Michael Key) ballooning in size due to his palm-greasing payments of chocolate. Even as a third theatrical live-action adaptation of Dahl’s classic tale, everything here feels original and fresh, never stepping on the toes of previous iterations. And Chalamet brings a kinder, less manipulative, more optimistic (and youthful) aura to this most popular of fictional candy-makers – a welcome vision for this typically mischievous role.

As for the musical components, the songs aren’t particularly memorable (save for the two borrowed from the 1971 film), but they’re generally peppy, fast-paced, and aurally pleasing, often using nonsense words to craft amusing rhymes. Toward the finale, the singing basically stops altogether, revealing the fact that “Wonka’s” musical status wasn’t as essential as it first appeared, instead favoring a light nod to “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” and wrapping up the loose ends of Noodle the sidekick orphan (Calah Lane), in line with standard, upbeat, lighthearted children’s pictures. But it concludes splendidly, with a suitably joyous outcome, working as a nice companion piece that broadens the details of Wonka’s upbringing and chocolate-selling conceptions, realized in part by an army of orange-faced, green-haired factory minions.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10