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erinbotten
14th December 2023

Wonka review: An almost tearful ending if it wasn’t for that Oompa Loompa

Relive your 00s childhood and become drawn in by chocolate-themed musical numbers as we watch Willy Wonka fight to make a name in Paul King’s chocolate world
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Wonka review: An almost tearful ending if it wasn’t for that Oompa Loompa
Credit: WONKA @ Warner Bros

Within the last few months of 2023, actor Timothée Chalamet has garnered a lot of attention. Whether it be from his personal life, such as dating businesswoman and socialite Kylie Jenner, or for his Chanel ambassador campaign (dir. Martin Scorsese), it isn’t hard for the young actor to make the headlines. Following a string of successful films staring Chalamet, Wonka brought childhood love and excitement to the Christmas box office. Earning £8.9 million from the UK box office alone, it’s fair to say the casting and script made Wonka a seasonal success.

Wonka is a new type of role for Chalamet. Not only does he perform and dance to big musical numbers, but the film is aimed at much younger audiences. Typically, Chalamet’s performances fall into the teenager to young adult category, seen in such films like Call Me By Your Name, Dune and more recently Bones and All. It’s refreshing to see him take on a lighter role as his comedic touch has been limited to critically questionable projects like Don’t Look Up and his SNL skits.

Wonka‘s opening scene sets up the story and energy from the get-go. Chalamet stands proudly from the mast of a beaten ship, singing with enthusiasm, excited to make a name for himself in the chocolate world. Viewers of previous Wonka incarnations know that of course, his chocolates become a global sensation, contributing to the isolation and slight instability of the inventor. In Paul King’s prequel however, we see a young and ambitious character. Throughout we see a quietly proud figure attempt to amaze the masses of this famous British Chocolate town, all the while the Chocolate Cartel tries to take him down. Yes… the town loves chocolate so much that there’s a cartel – don’t question it.

So what is Wonka about? And why watch it if we already know how it ends? Well, as the director of Paddington, King ensures it’s the wholesome British film we need at this time of the year. In addition, the film is far from just about Wonka’s come up. It’s an action-packed comedic-musical led by 00s childhood favourite actors. Sold yet?

The semi-serious, semi-comedic Chocolate Cartel consists of three chocolate giants who act as ‘competitors’, while secretly pooling their resources together to maximise profit. It’s through the town’s interactions with this cartel that we witness the dark side of chocolate, and how far people will go to protect their profits.

King cast the cartel fairly well, with Paterson Joseph (Peep Show) taking the evil lead, while Matt Lucas and Mathew Baynton (Horrible Histories) provide comedic filler without adding too much to the plot. It would’ve been nice to see Lucas and Baynton’s characters utilised more as they took a back seat for most of their scenes. However, opting for three 00s TV stars is a smart move marketing-wise for Wonka, as the team could draw in nostalgic audiences both in terms of plot and clever casting.

Olivia Coleman performs well as usual, acting as a (spoiler) evil adoption mother who scams and enslaves her guests. The enslaving part is pretty much swept over in this family-friendly film, making me wonder who thought it was a good idea to add kidnapping and slavery to a Roald Dahl film… Thankfully Coleman carries her part well, permitting audiences to absorb themselves in the plot rather than recognising actors. Furthermore, Coleman plays into the old-fashioned ugly stepmother stereotypes, both in terms of personality and ambition for a ‘better life’, reinforcing the nostalgia Wonka aims to provide.

Other recognisable actors audiences can expect to see are Rakhee Thakrar (Sex Education), Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele), Simon Farnaby (Horrible Histories), Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), Sally Hawkins (Paddington) and from a niche CBBC show, Justin Edwards (Sorry I’ve got not Head).

The best part about Wonka however is the second half of the film. The first half consisted of typical musical numbers with flash mobs and umbrellas, which took me a while to warm up to. Chalamet too takes a minute to get used to in these numbers, partially because the last time we saw him sing was for SNL‘s ‘Tiny Horse’. Also partially due to his high school Timmy Tim/ Nicki Minaj performance and this video. I guess the man knows how to perform a variety of genres.

Eventually, once the introduction was done and over, the image of a skinny teenage Chalamet yelling “statics” faded away and the plot really began. There are a variety of characters to unpack, each playing a small part in making Willy Wonka a success.

For me, Wonka‘s use of classic Hollywood music, such as ‘Pure Imagination‘ from 1971’s Willy Wonka, combined with the film’s original score will make you well up. It’s beautiful both cinematically and musically. For older audiences, that’s exactly what you want – to feel like a child again, forgetting everything else except what lies before you.

Along with carefully written jokes, poignant scenes and intense moments, King made a wise choice in casting Chalamet as the lead of a children’s film. It’s wholesome yet still attention-grabbing. Despite initially thinking in the opening act, ‘I’m not seeing this again,’ my mindset shifted.

It’s genuinely a funny yet teary film, ultimately saved by Hugh Grant as an Oompa Loompa. Bet you didn’t see that coming. I’d unpack Hugh Grant’s role further, but it deserves to remain mysterious and confusing. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it.

Credit: WONKA @ Warner Bros

So, should you see Wonka this Christmas break? Yes. Don’t be a Grinch. Go relive your childhood while questioning the lore of Wonka’s backstory with his mum – pretty sure he lived in New Jersey with massive braces, not on a riverboat in South America.

4/5

Wonka is in cinemas now.


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