Admittedly, when I first heard about Wonka, I was hesitant.
Gene Wilder is the perfect Willy Wonka in the iconic 1971 film ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. We’ve also seen a 2005 Tim Burton version of the tale titled ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ – the same name as the original Roald Dahl book. So, what more could a new film offer of the Willy Wonka world?
The 2023 film isn’t about finding gold tickets, Charlie Bucket, or even chocolate factories! Instead, Wonka is a prequel and an origin story about the magical chocolatier at the beginning of fulfilling his dreams.
Directed by Paul King, with screenplay by Simon Farnaby and Paul King, and story by Paul King based on characters by British author Roald Dahl, plus original songs by Neil Hannon and music by Joby Talbot, Wonka is an exquisitely enchanting cinematic experience for both existing fans of the franchise and new eyes visiting the Wonka world for the very first time.
Surprisingly a natural in the movie musical genre, Chalamet’s singing and dancing is an enjoyable sight to behold in Wonka. Perfectly cast, Timothée Chalamet plays a young ambitious, determined and optimistic Willy Wonka, addressed mostly in the film as just ‘Wonka’. Sweet (literally), sincere, aloof, likable and irresistibly charming, we witness Wonka making a life for himself in a place he had only heard about from his mother as a kid. Along the way, he meets some unique characters, friends and foes, some even very colourful and very small. All the while, Chalamet’s Wonka is respectful of the character’s legacy, yet at the same time, has enough input and growth for Chalamet to call the character his own.
Chalamet’s chemistry with his co-stars and their characters is also quite endearing, particularly Calan Lane’s Noodle where you really believe their newfound friendship is real and long for their characters to succeed.
Notable performances in Wonka include Mr Bean famed actor Rowan Atkinson making an appearance as a priest, Olivia Colman as the dodgy Mrs. Scrubbit alongside Tom Davis’ stupidly funny Bleacher, Keegan-Michael Key as the chocolate obsessed Chief-of-Police, and finally, Hugh Grant as the cheeky and sneaky Lofty the Ooompa-Loompa. Each cast member that is given the opportunity to sing, bravely displays their fine vocals in this film.
Arguably one of the best songs ever written, ‘Pure Imagination’ written by British composers Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley especially for the 1971 classic, makes a reappearance in the 2023 Wonka film. The song is not only beautifully performed in a respectful and new way by Timothée Chalamet, but the song’s melody is cleverly and affectionately interpolated into the film’s score.
Standing strong besides the beloved classic ballad are original songs that fit nicely into the Wonka world, my favourites being ‘A Hatful of Dreams’ which shows a happy-go-lucky Willy Wonka at the start, and the hopeful ‘A World of Your Own’. Music score wise, my favourite composition by Joby Talbot is ‘Clock Tower’. It’s so gorgeous, you’d be forgiven if you thought it was created for Christmas.
Visually, Wonka is a kaleidoscope of comforting colours which radiate an inviting warmth and mood that I haven’t seen in films in years. The cinematography and special effects are fantastic and I dare say, Abigail the Giraffe is quite the scene stealer. The set designs are also impressive, and the costume and wardrobe department have evidently outdone themselves with how gorgeous everyone’s attire appears, particularly Wonka’s outfits and especially, Willy Wonka’s stylish maroon coat which I was envious of and would buy off the shelves in a heartbeat.
The best part about Wonka though, is how enjoyable it is for all ages. The perfect film to watch in cinemas while downing a block of chocolate, Wonka never tries to dilute itself for younger audiences to understand. Instead, the film is rich in its music and its storytelling, igniting uplifting emotions in audiences while never forgetting its predecessors and origins.
There’s honestly something in Wonka for everyone to love. Sublime, hopeful, deliciously delightful and a treat for both long-time Willy Wonka fans and new viewers alike, this is one movie musical that I never knew I needed. Yes, I was hesitant at first but now I can happily admit – I’m really glad this film exists.
Wonka is in cinemas now.