Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a beloved film for adults and children alike. However, every attempt to tap into that magic since 1971 has not gone as well. This time around, Warner Bros has commissioned Paddington director, Paul King, to bring the story of Willy Wonka back to the big screen with the newly released, Wonka. The results are a mixed bag that isn’t what some may be expecting.
The 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film delved into Wonka’s early years, while also focusing on many of the events that were featured in the 1971 film. Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Willy Wonka was different from Gene Wilder, but it still worked. There were some scripting issues, but Depp as Wonka wasn’t the reason the film had a mixed reception from audiences.
In Wonka, Timothée Chalamet takes on the role of Willy Wonka, and seems to be modeling his performance to fall in line with Gene Wilder’s take on the character. It’s much more grounded than Depp’s portrayal, and it’s not too far-fetched to think this is what a young Wonka was like, but it feels too straightforward. Chalamet is fine as Wonka, but it feels as though any halfway decent young actor could’ve pulled off a similar performance. There’s nothing magical about Chalamet as Wonka.
Like the Chocolate Factory films that have come before, Wonka is a musical, but few of the musical numbers are memorable. In fact, the only ones that were of any interest were the callbacks to the 1971 film. Even then, they felt out of place and didn’t have the same impact compared to the Gene Wilder film.
While Wonka is technically a prequel to the events of the 1971 film, it’s meant to be a young children’s movie. At least that’s how it plays out on screen. The plot likely won’t appeal to older moviegoers, the jokes are juvenile, and there’s a fair amount of physical comedy and over-the-top acting that’s generally reserved for younger-skewing films.
With a younger audience in mind, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Colman, and Tom Davis easily steal the show. Key’s Chief of Police offered a fair amount of one-liners and physical comedy, Colman’s Mrs. Scrubbit was a larger than life caricature of devilishly evil intent, and Davis was her cumbersome partner in crime, Bleacher. No Oscars will be awarded for these roles, but they were entertaining nonetheless.
Like most films aimed at a younger audience, Wonka is easily forgettable. Everything from the songs, to the script, to the acting are unlikely to stay with you once you leave the auditorium. The film would have benefitted from trying to do its own thing, but the callbacks to the 1971 movie felt more like pandering than proper additions to the film. Still, for young children Wonka is sure to be a holiday hit, just don’t expect much appeal from adults.
Synopsis: With dreams of opening a shop in a city renowned for its chocolate, a young and poor Willy Wonka discovers that the industry is run by a cartel of greedy chocolatiers.
Director: Paul King
Writers: Simon Farnaby, Paul King
Stars: Timothée Chalamet, Olivia Colman, Keegan-Michael Key
Runtime: 1 Hour, 56 Minutes
Bryan Dawson has been writing professionally since the age of 13. He started his career as a video game writer and has since worked for Random House, Prima Games, DirecTV, IGN, AOL, the British Government, and various other organizations. For GNN, Bryan taps into his passion for movies.