"Wonka" Film Review

Wonka (2023) - IMDb

"Wonka" Film Review

Rating: 4.5/5

By: Nathaniel Simpson

    Willy Wonka is not only a very odd novel by acclaimed children's author Roald Dahl, but has also been adapted into two very strange movies that are marketed as family friendly despite their dark nature and themes. Both movies have very high highs, but they also have very low lows that simply don't work at times. Therefore, when I heard a new Wonka movie was in the works with Timothée Chalamet as the titular protagonist and is being helmed by the director of the two great "Paddington" movies, I was definitely intrigued but very cautious about being too excited. I have never been the biggest fan of this story, and I really didn't know what to expect. However, Chalamet and director Paul King blew my expectations out of the water and delivered a fantastically joyous film that is easily my favorite adaptation of the iconic character. 

    King and his collaborator Simon Farnaby decide to not retell the story that has been told twice on the screen, but rather craft their own unique tale that serves as an origin story for the famous chocolatier. Therefore, they tap Chalamet to play this unique version of the character, one whose eyes are full of wonder and one that believes in the good in all humans. He travels to Europe, where he hopes to open his first chocolate shop at the famous Galleries Gourmet. However, what he doesn't expect is to face the cruel Chocolate Cartel (Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas, Mathew Baynton), who don't want Wonka apart of their pact they have as they know the youngster will put them out of business. 

    When Wonka is tricked into a sort of slave labor to pay off his debt to the crooked Mrs. Scrubitt (Olivia Colman), he becomes friends with the other workers at the laundromat, especially a young orphan girl named Noodle (Calah Lane). Even though they are trapped in the evil laundromat, they find their way out to show the world Wonka's chocolate, who he hopes will change everyone's lives when they taste it.

    When watching this film, the first thing you will notice is how bright and happy it is compared to its previous film adaptations. While the ones with Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp have very dark themes and scary undertones, this one is so bright and cheery. It is full of the same wonderment and hope that is found in the character of Wonka, and really shows the childlike nature of the dreams that are executed here. King, who rose to prominence after the release of the fantastic "Paddington" films, really understands how to play on the viewer's hopes and dreams, and can deliver perfectly. After watching this film, it makes you want to follow the same beliefs as the characters and try to find the positive and happiness in this world, which the other two installments should have done as well. 

    This is a very different role for Chalamet. We have seen him play one part of a gay romantic relationship, a dark mysterious boy crush, a cannibal, a hero in a fantastic science fiction world, but we have never seen him play such a light and happy role. It seems like King let Chalamet really tap into his inner child, similar to videos that have resurfaced of his college days on social media platforms. At the same time, it just seems like Chalamet is having the time of his life here, and it's honestly one of his most enjoyable roles because of it. 

    At the same time, the minor characters compliment him perfectly. Noodle and the gang from the Laundromat (Jim Carter, Rahkee Thakrar, Natasha Rothwell, and Rich Fulcher) are all excellent and such beautiful sidekicks. They really all do such a fantastic job of playing their roles to unique perfection. When looking at the other side of the story, the villains here are so good. They're goofy and deliciously cruel, but so enjoyable to watch. They are even made greater by the Chief of Police (Keegan-Michael Key), who steals every scene he is in. And of course we have to mention Colman, Tom Davis (who plays Bleacher, Scrubitt's sidekick), and Hugh Grant, who does a fantastic job of playing the Oompa-Loompa. 

    The story moves at a very nice and smooth pace for the most part. It seems like there is not really a direction in the beginning, but once the story starts going, it really brings the viewer in and transports them to this beautiful world. It is able to take all of these big characters and outrageous storylines and combine them all together to make a perfect mix, just like Wonka's chocolate. Another thing I very much enjoyed about this movie is King's decision to make it a musical, which adds just another beautiful element to this gorgeous film. Believe me, you will be humming all of these songs days and weeks after you see it. 

    This 2023 imagining of the classic character is easily my favorite adaptation of the three movies, and is just a toe-tapping, deliciously good time. King takes the whimsical aspects that is found in his "Paddington" films, and just crafts the best version of the character and the story, which Chalamet compliments so well with his performance. This is one you need to see on the biggest screen possible, and you're definitely going to want to see it multiple times after.