February 26, 2024

WONKA Is Better Than It Had A Right To Be

WONKA (Blu-ray)
2023 / 116 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😺

I’ll say this much…Wonka was a hell of a lot better than I thought it would be.

One might take that as great praise, being that I’m one of those old curmudgeons who not only grew up on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but felt Gene Wilder embodied the title character so brilliantly that anyone else stepping into the role would be an exercise in futility. Even today, I’m convinced Wilder is almost the sole reason the film is a classic. 

Timothy Chalamet is not gonna make anyone forget Wilder, but to his and director Paul King’s credit, he isn’t trying to. At the same time, there’s no misguided attempt to re-invent the character as a creepy manchild (as in Tim Burton’s godawful remake). While the new film is a prequel, there’s a definite connecting thread between this young, confident, optimistic Willy Wonka and the wise, cynical, condescending one that’s now the subject of countless memes.

That being said, Wonka is a whimsical, aesthetically gorgeous musical depicting its titular character as a young man, filled with hope and ambition in his attempts to introduce his unique brand of chocolate to the world. He’s met with opposition, of course, in the form of Arthur Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), the leader of the Chocolate Cartel, which essentially runs the city like the mafia. Wonka gets help from a variety of others who, like him, are indebted by-contract to crooked launderette owner Mrs. Scrubitt (Olivia Colman). The smartest of them is Noodle (Calah Lane), a young orphan who was dumped at the launderette as a baby and becomes Wonka’s most trusted friend.

Willy's killing jar.
As with most musicals, the actual plot takes a backseat to the characters, performances and musical numbers. The songs themselves are generally forgettable (save for a few nostalgic callbacks to the original film), but presented pretty spectacularly, bursting with exuberance and color. Several character-driven moments are charming (particularly those shared by Wonka and Noodle) and funny (such as Hugh Grant, who was born to be an Oompa Loompa).

As Wonka, Chalamet wears the hat quite nicely, displaying confidence and earnestness while avoiding turning him into a caricature. However, he’s sometimes upstaged by his co-stars, including Colman, Lane, Keegan-Michael Key (as the corrupt chief of police) and Tom Davis (as Bleacher, Mrs. Scrubitt’s nasty partner). Perhaps that’s because their characters were newly created for this film, so we have no basis for comparison, whereas Chalamet was never going to completely escape Wilder’s shadow. He’s good, but he’s no Heath Ledger.

Still, as prequels go, Wonka is a lot better than it had a right to be. While there are obvious ties to the original, it works just fine as a stand-alone story. In fact, it was only during certain musical cues, the arrival of Lofty (the Oompa Loompa) and the inevitable denouement that I was reminded this was a prequel.


FEATURETTES - Unwrapping Paul King’s Vision (interviews with director King and most of the cast); The Whimsical Music of Wonka (the film’s songs, mostly written by Neil Hannon); Welcome to Wonka Land (mostly focuses on production design); Hats Off to Wonka (costume design); Wonka’s Chocolatier (featuring Gabriella Gugna, who created the candies).

MUSICAL MOMENTS - 13 isolated music segments.


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