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The "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" prequel is sweet if hollow

Original films are increasingly rare in the studio system, as confidence in new stories wanes in favor of existing IP. As such we are getting a barrage of movies that seek to find a new twist to an existing story, the latest being a prequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1971) with the origin story Wonka (2023).


Wonka follows the ambitious up-and-coming chocolatier Willy Wonka (Timothee Chalamet) as he moves to the big city with hopes of opening his own chocolate shop. However, his naïve optimism leads him to be tricked and exploited by the established chocolatiers (Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas, and Mathew Baynton), the police chief (Keegan Michael-Key), and a laundromat owner (Olivia Coleman). However, with spunk and creativity, Willy attempts to follow his dream to become the best chocolate maker in the world.


Wonka is from the same creative team that delivered the first two Paddington movies. Paul King directs and brings an affable British pleasantness that made the Paddington films so delightful. With Wonka we are sustained by the saccharine good-will and enthusiasm of Willy as well as the old-timey musical numbers that harken to golden era Hollywood. King also puts an emphasis on practical effects over CGI splatters, which helps give the colorful world of Wonka a more tangible feel.


Wonka is a full-fledged musical, and while its songs are all competently written and staged, none of them prove very memorable. Chalamet, is winning with the passion and energy that he brings to the role, but he struggles with the musical elements as we hear the use of auto-tune. The cast of gifted actors does well to deliver safe and family-friendly humor, from the veterans Coleman and Jim Carter to relatively new faces in Rakhee Thakrar and Calah Lane. The real standout, however, is Hugh Grant as an Oompa Loompa, who steals every moment he’s in.


The biggest flaw with Wonka is its script, which seeks to be a sanitized version of Roald Dahl and fails to find a compelling character arc for Willy. Coleman’s Mrs. Scrubitt is the closest we get to a Dahl villain, but she disappears half-way through the film and we get the bumbling and clumsy rival chocolatiers as our main antagonists instead. This robs Dahl’s dark and delivers a harmless narrative instead. The film is also inept at showing us how the enthusiastic and colorful sweets creator became the maniacal figure from the book and Gene Wilder film. Willy ends up in the same place as a character as he began of unabashed positivity.


Nevertheless, Wonka proves to be a delightful and pleasant time, competently staged and with a pleasing color palette. The musical numbers are unmemorable, and the lack of character complexity fails to have the sweetness penetrate much deeper. However, much like chocolate bar itself, for a short burst of delight, Wonka does the job.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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