"Come with me and you'll be in a world of pure imagination..." with those dozen words actor Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein) captured the hearts and minds of children worldwide. Based on Roald Dahl's novel, the film, titled Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, was originally a box office disappointment but has gained a cult following and has become a beloved classic. Then thirty-four years later director Tim Burton released a darker, more bizarre version of Dahl's tale called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2005. This month, thanks to Warner Bros., audiences will get a sort of origin story about the chocolatier called Wonka.
When we meet the young Wonka (Timothée Chalamet; Dune), he is determined to fulfill his promise to his mother, whom he lived with on a boat and who saved up all year to make him one of her incredibly delicious, special, chocolate bars on his birthday (this version deviates from Burton's as actor Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) as Wonka recalls his childhood living with his father, a dentist). However, when Willy dares to impede upon the businesses in the Galeries Gourmet, the owners of those businesses get Willy kicked out.
Needing a place to stay for the night, Willy gets swindled by the local laundromat owner, Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Colman; The Favourite), and finds he is suddenly an indentured servant. Using his chocolate know-how and with the help of the other "servants", Willy manages to make his dreams come true while bringing down the nefarious individuals who plotted his demise.
With Paddington director Paul King behind the camera, Wonka, much like some of King's other films, offers a few laughs, adventure, and a sweet story peppered with a bit of magic. Like the other two tales about the famous candy maker, Wonka has a distinct feel to it while paying homage to its source material. It also has some new, catchy tunes that are enjoyable enough but, rest assured, could never top the classic Pure Imagination.
King manages to assemble a fabulous cast beginning with Chalamet. His singing and dancing are passable but his energy and effervescent portrayal shows hints of Wilder's Wonka while not mimicking his predecessor. Colman channels both Sweeney Todd's Mrs Lovett and Annie's Miss Hannigan to create Mrs. Scrubbit and, speaking of Annie, Calah Lane (This Is Us) sings a sad song about her parents as the orphan Noodle who teams with Willy to find a way to escape the aforementioned Scrubbit's control. Supporting cast members, such as Rowan Atkinson (Johnny English), Keegan-Michael Key (Tomorrowland), Matt Lucas (Alice Through the Looking Glass), and Jim Carter (Downton Abbey), help move the plot along without overshadowing Chalamet and Lane.
While there is no doubt Chalamet is the star, one would be remiss to leave out the phenomenally hilarious Hugh Grant (Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves) as the chocolate-stealing Oompa-Loompa. His song and dance rendition of the "Oompa-Loompa" song while donning a green wig, elf shoes, and orange skin is a highlight of the film that is not to be missed. Writers Simon Farnaby (Yonderland) and King throw in enough crumbs of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to make the audience wax nostalgic while also appealing to younger audiences who have not seen the 1971 version (or the 2005 version for that matter).
For those of us who have seen both Wilder's and Deep's Wonka will more than likely appreciate Chalamet's rendition and knowing King's panache for combining the sad sentiment with fun and excitement will notice his hand stirring the pot throughout the two-hour run time. Is Wonka better than its predecessors? Yes and no. Because they are all so different, the three films can't honestly be compared, but each Wonka brought something unique to Dahl's story and I can think of worse ways to spend a few hours of family time this holiday season.
There is no doubt about it, Wonka is a "magical treat" that the whole family can enjoy.