Wonka ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ½
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. Out in cinemas on Friday.
For all those who are slightly apprehensive about this latest “prequel”, maybe because their loving connection to the original story, or because of their fond memories of the classic film with Gene Wilder, or even the one by Tim Burton with Johnny Depp (yes, I am told there are people who love that too), I can safely reassure them and tell them that not only this film is the perfect pre-Christmas present for all those who want to spend some time in a cinema with their family, but I might even take it a step further and say that this is better than any previous incarnation of the Dahl classic.
I came into it suspicious and within just a few minutes, by the time first song was over, I was absolutely with it. In fact, I’d say it is pretty impossible not be swept up by its charm.
I should have known really. You just have to look at the Paddington films to realised that director Paul King (and writer Simon Farnaby) seem to have an innate ability to make instant family classics: stylish, inventive, whimsical, dazzling, heartfelt and magical. And even though this might not reach the stylistic heights of Paddington 2 (one of the best sequels of the last decade, or more), the winning formula is very similar and it certainly makes it the most crowd-pleasing film I’ve seen the whole year.
A satire on capitalism for grown-ups, a tale about magic and chocolate for kids.
Yes, there may be some weird leaps in the story, which at times feel slightly forced, also it’s got a bit too much going on (possibly too many moving parts and subplots), and there are few gaps here and there, which are certainly the results of a longer version being hacked to pieces in the editing room (a version which I would LOVE to see by the way), but this film gets so many things right, that I’m willing to forgive those shortcomings.
The tone, for a start, perfectly pitched with the right amount of whimsy, wackiness and poignancy, just like the main character himself, Willy Wonka, who is clearly the best thing in it.
Timothée Chalamet, once again, proves that he can pull anything off, whether it’s a mystical warrior in Dune or a closeted gay in Call me by your name, or a hopeless drug addict in Beautiful Boy, the aloof, too-cool-for-school kid in Lady Bird or even a cannibal in Bones and all. He is definitely the most accomplished actor of his generation and certainly destined for glory and huge success.
In Wonka Chalamet makes the character his own, resisting from mimicking any of the previous characterisations from Wilder or Depp. Instead, he transforms what could have been a rather annoyingly whimsical, goody-goody, much-too-optimistic, saccharine, over-the-top, character into a joyous, loving, gentle wide-eyed dreamer, with just the right amount of quirkiness, sweetness, wit and poignancy, all mixed together to make him instantly charming.
It may not have the dark edge from Dahl, quite yet, but let’s give him time (the inevitable sequel will be very welcome, if this is successful) the film soars with him and because of him. Right from the start, as he appears singing on a boat, with his un-shameful baggage of optimism, you cannot help but like him.
And yes, I did say “singing” because, despite what the fact that the marketing campaign tried to hide this completely, make no mistake, this is a good old-fashioned musical from start to finish, the way Mary Poppins was. In fact, it reminded me a lot of that film too: there is a wonderful scene in which Wonka floats and dances on top of some glass rooftops with a bunch of balloons, which feels like it could have come out straight from the pages of P.L. Travis.
The musical numbers, with songs from Neil Hannon and a score by Joby Talbot are glitzy, cheerful, instantly catchy, full of colours and joy just like the world depicted here.
The rest of the cast is just as perfect, from the grumpy Oompa Loompa played with gusto by Hugh Grant, to the wicked Mrs. Scrubitt, played with an unashamed nastiness by Olivia Colman. Keegan-Michael Key, Jim Carter, Matt Lucas and Rowan Atkinson are just some of the most recognisable stars who seem to have a ball in this film. And the fun is infectious.
I saw this in a previous screening filled with BAFTA members, who are usually quite uptight and reserved. Here they were laughing and lapping it up as if there was no tomorrow.
I cannot wait for this to be released soon, so that I can take my son along (and have the excuse to watch it again).
Wonka is out in cinemas on Friday.
Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.
See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali
Chiswick In Film festival: Chiswick In Film festival 2023
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