Let me tell you something about the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It’s sacred to me. So when I heard word of a prequel coming out, I had Tim Burton-sized nightmares about a remake. I was scared and afraid. Then I saw the trailer for the Wonka movie and had hope.
A few weeks ago, I had a chance to preview this movie and I’m happy to report that I absolutely, positively loved everything about this movie. When this rolls into theaters on December 15th, you can feel confident spending your hard-earned money on this family-friendly movie.
I liked it. My husband liked it. Even my surly teenage son liked it. I can’t wait to tell you more about it and why this is the holiday movie we all needed.
What is Wonka all about?
You’ll be happy to know that this is NOT another remake. There’s no need to mess with perfection, right? This is actually a prequel – a story of a young Wonka on his way up in the world of chocolate and magic. A Wonka before he’s become jaded by Slugworth and other schemers. A Wonka before a world of Oompa-Loompas (but only just).
Based on the extraordinary character at the center of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl’s most iconic children’s book and one of the best-selling children’s books of all time, “Wonka” tells the wondrous story of how the world’s greatest inventor, magician and chocolate-maker became the beloved Willy Wonka we know today.
And who could portray such a young at heart and spirited individual? If you’re thinking of a young actor who starred in a lusty, coming-of-age gay romance (Call Me By Your Name) or a young actor who commanded the screen in the visually stunning sci-fi epic (Dune), you might be thinking of Timothée Chalamet and wondering if he could possibly be right for this role. He is.
Who is Wonka for?
As we’ve seen with disastrous Disney and Pixar movies over the past few years, studios have a hard time deciding who their movies are for and what they’re trying to provide to the audience. Wonka could have easily fallen into the same trap – new hilarious antics to appeal to young children with a wink, wink, nudge, nudge through the fourth wall to let parents know we know they’re right there with us.
It’s tough to appeal to young kids while satisfying their parents but Wonka does it with this one weird trick: entertainment. The movie is a visual delight with an amazing and outrageous cast of characters. Adults will feel nostalgic while enjoying this new version of a story they love.
But will kids feel the magic of Wonka the way that my generation felt the joy of watching someone eat whipped cream from a mushroom spot or crunch the edge of a tulip cup? This is what remains to be seen. It’s clear that CGI is a large part of the film. It has to be. So, in a world where kids are already used to anything being visually possible, I hope they’ll also delight in the magic of the film as well.
Because it’s not just about visuals. It’s about an excellent story sung and told by an outstanding and talented cast that holds nothing back.
The Cast of Wonka
Rumors online speculate that both Timothée Chalamet and Tom Hollander were up for the role of Wonka. I actually think either actor would have been an excellent choice but I do feel like Chalamet was the fresher choice. He sings, he dances, and he exudes an innocent charm.
But he’s not the only standout in the film. It’s definitely an ensemble cast from Wonka‘s “innkeepers” (played by Olivia Colman at her villainess best and a new-to-me but oh-so-entertaining Tom Davis) to his laundry mates (look for Jim Carter from Downton Abbey) to his rivals (including Paterson Joseph as a deliciously evil Slugworth).
You’ll see other familiar faces like Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean!), Natasha Rothwell (White Lotus S1), Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) and one of my personal favorites, Keegan-Michael Key as the Chief of Police. And you’ll appreciate relative newcomers like Calah Lane who perfectly plays Noodle, the long-suffering orphan that befriends Willy Wonka himself.
Oh, and I almost forgot the cast member with the briefest of controversies… Hugh Grant as an Oompa Loompa. He’s not a little person yet plays a rather small creature (although he claims to be a large one). Never in a million years would I have thought this casting would work but he’s absolutely delightful in a very Hugh Grant way.
The “Bad Guys” of Wonka
The “Good Guys” of Wonka
The Brains Behind the new Wonka movie
It’s not as easy as you think to bring a story to the screen. Throw in a few lawyers and it becomes very tricky. Wonka is not made by the same studio that holds the rights to the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. That means some elements are missing and some are simply “inspired by” the original. This story is expertly woven to tie into the original movie and story from the Roald Dahl book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory while still remaining an original story.
Warner Bros actually acquired the rights to the Roald Dahl characters but relied on Paddington 2 director, Paul King, to bring it to life. He co-wrote the screenplay based on a story he had written about Wonka’s origins.
What he created is a story that feels innocent and full of dreams, with an entertaining wit to every character. It’s a story that’s simple enough for young children to follow and intricate enough for adults to love it too.
Final Thoughts on Wonka
One thing I haven’t addressed is that Wonka is a musical. I don’t know why I didn’t consider that since the original movie was also a musical but it was unexpected when it opened with a musical number. Sometimes the musical scenes were a bit of a distraction but mostly it worked for character development and does move each scene forward.
Upon first viewing, the music isn’t incredibly memorable but with time, it may have staying power. But the rest of the movie certainly does.
Although it has an early 20th century feel, as with the original movie, it’s a timeless and locationless setting. It’s meant to stick around and I hope it does. It’s good, innocent fun for the whole family, a bit reminiscent of Annie.
More importantly, the end of the movie didn’t feel like an ending. There could be more! We all know Hollywood loves a good franchise and this is one I’d like to see continue.