Who hasn’t heard of Willy Wonka at some point in their lives? This wildly eccentric fictional chocolatier first appeared in British author Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and appeals to both children and adults.
Since then, actors Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp have worn the top hat to play the now iconic character. Timothee Chalamet is the latest to take on the role in Paul King’s latest film offering “Wonka”.
You might not have asked for it, but King is giving it to you all the same – an origin story for Wilder’s 1971 portrayal of the character.
Before the verdict, let’s delve into the plot.
Wonka arrives in Galeries Gourmet, a fictional European-like town after seven years at sea, intending to sell his handmade chocolates to its citizens.
Unluckily for him, he’s immediately swindled into staying at Mrs Scrubbit’s (Olivia Colman) boarding house. He becomes her entrapped slave in order to pay off her unreasonable lodging fees.
To make matters worse, the sweets market here is monopolised by three unscrupulous chocolatiers, all too happy to dispose of Wonka with the help of the chief of police (Keegan-Michael Key).
Not all is lost though. With the help of Scrubbit’s other victims, the orphaned Noodle (Calah Lane) in particular, Wonka sneaks out to sell his chocolates while evading the authorities.
Oh, and Hugh Grant plays a 12-inch orange-skinned-green-haired Oompa-Loompa that regularly steals chocolates from Wonka.
What works here?
The star of the show is undoubtedly Chalamet who handles the role like a champ. The 27-year-old plays the titular character with charm and heart, successfully engaging the audience with each outburst of dance and song.
Make no mistake, you will be scratching your head as to how this seemingly kind person could happily look the other way as greedy children drown in his chocolate river.
However, the almost effortless charisma Chalamet brings to his role will likely leave you looking the other way too.
The emotional centre of the film is the relationship between Wonka and Noodle. The down-on-their-luck duo form a fast friendship and the audience gets to see the development of their heartfelt bond throughout its runtime.
Lane plays the doleful but street-smart Noodle with a childlike innocence that easily endears you to her, so you’re rooting for her in all her endeavours.
If there’s one character depiction less than exemplary, it would have to be Hugh Grant’s take on an Oompa Loompa. Introducing himself as Lofty, the actor plays the classic chocolate factory worker with wit and sass. While passable, his overall performance does seem somewhat overshadowed by the immediate likability (or unpleasantness) of the other characters.
On the other hand, Wonka’s rival chocolatiers led by Slugworth (Paterson Joseph) would’ve easily fallen into the forgettable villain trope, but the trio deliver a delectable ensemble that makes them memorable.
While balancing being sinister and genuinely funny simultaneously, their interactions with Key’s police chief deliver moments of comedic gold too.
The songs in the film are cheery and hope-inducing without being cringy or forgettable. A former theatre kid, Chalamet sails through his musical performances with ease and playfulness. The supporting cast holds up their end too, participating gleefully and with abandon whenever a character breaks into song.
The scene, where the singing Wonka and Noodle float away with a bunch of colourful balloons resembling jellybeans, is magical to say the least.
True to his style, King brings over his signature family-friendly appeal from both Paddington films (which he wrote and directed), lending much wondrous and astounding moments to this film as well.
Overall, “Wonka” is a slam-dunk for both King and Chalamet, and it might just be a new holiday classic in the making. If you loved the Paddington movies, go watch Wonka – it will make your holidays magical.
As of press time, ‘Wonka’ is screening in cinemas nationwide.