They were all young once: Don Corleone and Darth Vader, Butch and Sundance, Hannibal and Leatherface, Maleficent and Cruella. And long before he was the world's best-known chocolatier and distributor of life-changing golden tickets, William “Willy” Wonka was just a twenty-something kid with a top hat, a sweet tooth, and a dream.
For decades, we could only wonder how the bright-eyed boy became the head confectioner. This is where Wonka A prequel that seeks to fill in the gaps regarding Roald Dahl's eccentric sugar pimp and give this generation the Willy it deserves, this retrospective of the origin story of a children's film icon is determined to win you over by dressing you down. We all know that every hectic sugar rush is inevitably followed by a crash. Somehow this movie makes you feel like you're experiencing the high and the low at the same time.
We'll find out in due course how Wonka went from being obsessed with confections to cornering the market, and how, after years of scouring exotic landscapes for ingredients and inspiration, he landed in the big city to beat Big Chocolate at its own rigged game. . Whoever is in charge of developing Dahl's adaptations was wise to hire Paul King. A British director who operates in the no man's land between tweeness and joy, more associated with other marquee auteurs, he is best known for gifting the Paddington films with a sense of formalism and playful reflections of whimsy.
And from the moment Wonka (Timothée Chalamet) steps off the ship and is freed from his meager savings – this is a metropolis after all – you are taken into a world of impeccable production design, well-choreographed citizen dancers, and high-octane caricatures. comical. The town is a bit like Dickensian London crossed with pre-war Paris, but the bustling ensemble of movement, musical numbers, colors and comic froth basically make this a cartoon composite we'll call Kingstown.
Still, the film needs King's touch and sensitivity to lift it out of the waters of intellectual property exploitation and into something more imaginative and direct. Having finally reached the promised land known as Galerias Gourmet, Wonka plans to sell its products while singing to win the hearts of consumers and connoisseurs. It won't be as easy as this naive guy in the smart coat believes it to be. Firstly, there is a $3 fine for public daydreaming, which is a financial deathblow for an idealist who wants to change the world. Second, their presence doesn't make the Chocolate Industrial Complex trinity – Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), Prodnose (Matt Lucas) and Fickelgruber (Matthew Baynton), who vomit at the mention of the word “poor” – particularly happy or charitable. . Third, our man is tricked by Bleacher and Mrs. Scrubbit (Tom Davis and Olivia Colman), who run a joint boarding house and laundry. Failure to pay attention to the fine print of a contract gets Wonka into a lot of trouble, meaning he is forced to pay off his massive debt to his landlords one dirty sheet at a time. Welcome to capitalism, Willy.
In this frothy prison, he is joined by his fellow tenants Abacus (Jim Carter), Lottie (Rakhee Thakrar), Piper (Natasha Rothwell), Mr. Chucklesworth (Rich Fulcher) – and a young woman named Noodle (Calah Lane). This kid tried to warn Wonka, but he was too busy thinking of new ways to get his merchandise to people. Noodle also becomes his dressing room, his business partner, his accomplice to escape endless scrubbing and, most importantly, the character who brings out Wonka's most human side. Their friendship is the heart of the film, thanks in large part to Lane – she's a natural in a film that isn't filled with many natural elements.
Everything else, however, seems fueled by the film's adrenal glands, including Keegan-Michael Key's chocoholic cop, Rowan Atkinson's noxious priest, Willy's mother issues, a handful of songs full of wordplay by Neil Hannon, from the Divine Comedy, some MGM-style musical numbers. , an escaped giraffe, some stabs at class warfare – “the greedy overcame the needy” – and, my goodness, Hugh Grant’s Oompa Loompa named Lofty. (King used his acting talent for serious nonsense so well in Paddington2 It hurts to see what was certainly a riot on the page crash onto the screen.) It's all very exciting when it's not completely exhausting. At least you can't say Wonka it is a generic cash grab of legacy property.
You can tell there's a small hole in the middle of this candy, however, and it's clearly shaped like Wonka. Ever since Timothée Chalamet appeared on the general public's radar with Call me by your name In 2017, the young actor proved himself to be versatile, charismatic, remarkably oblivious, and capable of amplifying and weaponizing his attractiveness (see: Bird Lady or, better yet, Bones and all). He also managed to argue that his name now belongs in movie titles, with genuine stardom just a few more sci-fi blockbusters and/or rock star biopics away.
But Chalamet started out as a true theater kid, and it's that backstory that always comes to mind when you watch Wonka. Mainly because the chops he would have perfected back then would have come in very handy here if they were somehow translated to the screen. And yet, despite having a rather pleasant voice, lightness on his feet, and solid comedic timing, he somehow seems completely wrong for this role. There is little to no Wonka in your Wonka. There really doesn't seem to be anyone up there, oddly enough. It's not that we wanted the ghost of Gene Wilder to be somehow channeled through his performance—Chalamet has big IP roles to fill just by being there, so he wisely avoids the Wilder side of things. Not to mention the film is quite busy in its own right, which would perhaps mean downplaying the madness simply for contrast.
But to have a void where a main character should be, even if it's “just” a fictional chocolatier who captivated the hearts of millions of readers and viewers (because he scared them at the same time; look how coolly he handled Augusto's situation! ), it is also not the solution. You're grateful that King injects a sense of kindness, an eccentricity, and the care to make this something more than leftover Dahl plays. However, you wish Chalamet was bringing something, anything, to what often feels like character karaoke. He's not bad, just blank. What's enough to make you feel like Wonka It ended long before it actually ended. Let's just say the hustle and bustle is anything but eternal here.