A prequel story for Willie Wonka was definitely not in my 2023 wish list but boy, am I glad that it exists. From director Paul King, the man behind the fantastic Paddington movies, comes Wonka. It’s easy to go down the route of just telling how the famous chocolate factory was made and where the Oompa Loompas came from but that isn’t the case with this one. The film chose to stand on its own. Telling an original story about the core identity of who Willie Wonka is without concerning itself with past iterations.
The film completely recontextualizes the Willie Wonka character into someone that you can’t help but genuinely root for. Willie is an optimistic fellow who believes that there is always good in everyone and that’s the reason why each day can pass by. Some of my favorite characters in modern media share the same qualities such as Ted Lasso and Paddington himself. This is a special type of film that evokes a great sense of hope and whimsical fantasy. It’s thoroughly entertaining and emotionally resonant to its core.
It is with the phenomenal performance out of Timothée Chalamet and the excellent guiding hand of Paul King that makes Wonka an absolute holiday treat.
In a world of pure imagination
A large part of what made King’s Paddington movies so good is how well the stories were translated to the screen through fantastic direction and visual crafting. Wonka shares the same recipe all throughout.
This is a great looking film. Pristine looking shots that truly bring out the childlike wonder in even the most mundane of scenarios. Underground laundry facility? Zoo cages? A bird coop? A bustling town square? Every frame in Wonka looked like it was shot with clear intent.
But what is a great looking world without the characters that inhabit it? The first shoutout has to be towards Chalamet’s Willie Wonka. Wow, what a phenomenal take on the character. There is an undeniable layer of innocence and charm that just bleeds through the screen. He’s just a guy that wants to share the joy of eating chocolate to the world and believes that no one is exempted from doing so. He views this as an art form rather than a business. You don’t need to be a chocolate maker to relate to Willie. The passion for his craft is so tangible and genuine that almost anyone can see and understand as to why he deserves a chance.
It’s easy to look like a happy-go-lucky individual but balancing it out with grounded emotional stakes can be a challenge. Chalamet throws himself into this film’s take on Willie Wonka and gave me a whole new perspective on the character. He made me laugh, smile, and maybe shed a tear or two later down the line. It also helps that he has a fantastic singing voice which made the musical aspects of the movie all the more enjoyable. I can’t sing enough praises for Chalamet. His performance alone is worth the ticket price.
Of course, there are other heavy hitters in the film such as Keegan-Michael Key and Rowan Atkinson, who both have semi-minor roles but completely ate up all the scenes they were in. I really don’t want to say much because some of the best surprises come from what they do here.
The supporting cast that surrounds Chalamet’s Willie Wonka is also worth a notable peek. Each one has a quirky trait of their own that would normally just be out-of-place if this was in any other movie. What sells it all is again, King’s strong direction, but also the actors’ full dedication to commit to the bit. Nearly every other scene I’m telling myself “Yea, he/she is my favorite character now.”
And yes, Hugh Grant’s Oompa-Loompa is definitely a show-stealer. Whatever you saw in the trailers, it’s not enough. You owe it to yourself to experience seeing what else he’s got up his orange sleeves. Absolute perfection.
Even the villains themselves are just so enjoyable to hate. As with the rest of the film, the antagonistic factors in Wonka are all exaggerated caricatures that never take themselves too seriously. There’s always a wink to absurdity that never compromises the integrity of the narrative. This is also where Wonka continued to impress me. It has conscious awareness of when, where, and why a joke should be made or when a scenario should be taken seriously.
When all was said and done, I left the theaters with teary eyes, a satisfied heart, and a massive smile on my face. Wonka feels like the perfect movie to watch with family and friends this holiday season. Just be warned: you will be craving some chocolates afterwards.