Wonka review – a sugar-coated origin story for everyone’s favourite chocolate maker.
Paul King directs Wonka. The film stars Timothée Chalamet as the titled character. It features an ensemble cast including Calah Lane, Keegan-Michael Key, Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas, Mathew Baynton, Sally Hawkins, Rowan Atkinson, Jim Carter, Tom Davis, Olivia Colman, and Hugh Grant.
Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Chocolate Factory has had two big screen adaptations, firstly in 1971 with Gene Wilder donning the purple suit and top hat as Willy Wonka and Johnny Depp and Tim Burton taking on the story in 2005. Now we get the origin story for the character in what is classed as a prequel to the first adaptation, from Paddington Director Paul King and starring Timothée Chalamet as a young wide-eyed Willy Wonka seeking his fortune from his chocolate-making delights.
It’s instantly clear that it is a prequel with little traces of Pure Imagination before our Wonka bursts into song. Like the original, this is a Musical with new songs from The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon. There are several songs in the film, but not many strike a chord in a lasting way; they are fun at the moment but trickle away soon after. Despite this, there is a sense of scale and fun to many singing and dancing moments and an earnest, boyish charm ruminating from Chalamet’s Wonka.
Fans of Paddington will find much of the charm and wit of those films on display, with King ably assisted by his regular co-writer Simon Farnaby; also one of the writers of hit Sitcom Ghosts. There is a lot of crossover in the cast of the Paddington films and Ghosts with Sally Hawkins, Hugh Grant, Matthew Baynton and many more; while in the short term, this can prove enjoyable, it can often prove jarring.
This is an uncynical take on Wonka’s origins, missing some of the narcissism and edge of the original Dahl story and previous film versions. It is perhaps a stretch to see this version of the character morphing into Wilder’s more jaded, cynical version. However, this is perhaps to be expected from the Paddington team, and as a piece of festive entertainment, this is light, fluffy, sugar-coated, and sure to go down well with many families.
Chalamet proved his leading man credentials with Dune and Bones & All, further cementing his star status and showing off a different side to his range with some impressive singing. Outside of some of the opening moments, Wonka could have done with being more eccentric to make us buy into the character; while there are moments here and there, there is a sense of quirkiness missing. Hugh Grant as an Oompa Loompa is a fun addition, but outside of Wonka, there is a lack of development for some of the central cast, preventing this from matching Paddington.
Wonka is an entertaining, often funny family film, sure to charm many, but it is tonally muddled and often lurches between several underbaked plot points that could be more endearing. It is a solid addition to the story but held back from achieving the greatness of the original source material.