Wonka is the big Christmas surprise musical movie of the year and trust Paul King to turn what could’ve been a cashgrab of a brand name film into something with heart and soul. He’s done wonders with the first two Paddington films and will be sorely missed for the third; but the energy that he brings to Wonka is greatly appreciated – we’ve got to love a big grand musical that swings for the fences and hits all of them, acting as an origin story for the eccentric but brilliant genius Willy Wonka and his love for chocolate, beautifully replicated in a world thanks to one of the best performances by Timothee Chalamet of his entire career: able to bring more depth to his character than he has done in previous roles and show real range; making the more emotional moments shine.
arrWonka ives in New York to sell chocolate but finds himself pitted against the chocolate cartel and their evil corporate business empire that bribes off policemen so they can maintain a grip on the city. It’s a cartoonish set-up but it makes for the perfect family friendly fare – much more enjoyable than the other big superhero WB movie released at Christmas – but has flashes of darker moments; as Wonka – young and naïve; loses all his money within seconds and is forced to take up rent in a shop that quickly becomes less hospitable than it appears – as a front for a malicious laundry store. Now he has to free himself and his new friend – Calah Lane’s orphan Noodle; who has been a captive all her life – with nothing but a chock-full of ideas and an attitude where he’s determined to change the world one bite at a time.
Luring us in with the familiar usage of Pure Imagination and keeping us there, Wonka’s musical numbers occupy must of the first half of the film but quickly fade away for more serious fare when the film decides to dip into the heist genre; enlisting British comedic actors like Rowan Atkinson and Matt Lucas. Hugh Grant is always brilliant as an Oompa Loompa; who causes Wonka no end of trouble – and the cast really compliment this musical well. Calah Lane herself is particularly brilliant – a standout star in Wonka as you buy into her shattered dreams being restored by Wonka’s creativity. Not all the songs land yet even in the weaker moments the film feels caught up in the joyous energy that Paul King brings to any project – borrowing creative jokes from The Simpsons and The Lemon of Troy to tell its story not shameless in hiding its influences, but it’s all the best for it.
Crucially much better than Johnny Depp’s caricature but not quite as realised as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, with Gene Wilder’s performance being instantly memorable – Wonka may not shake completely its feeling of “oh, do we really need this?” especially in its inconsistent and shakier moments where not everything quite lands: but it’s oh so good at having the right amount of infectious crowd-pleaser energy so that you just don’t really have to care, thanks in no small part due to its rather brilliant reliance on practical effects where possible.