Skip to main content

The Movie Guru

Jan 09, 2024 08:22AM ● By Jenniffer Wardell

Credit for photo ©Warner Bros.

I’ll admit, I was worried about “Wonka.” 

For fans of 1971’s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” it’s always nerve-wracking watching Hollywood trying to bring back the magic. The 2005 attempt is best forgotten, Johnny Depp a pale replacement for Gene Wilder, and it was hardly comforting to hear that Timothée Chalamet would be taking over the hat. It hardly seemed possible that either he or “Paddington” director Paul King would bring the sense of anarchy needed to make Willy Wonka truly work. 

I’m happy to say I was so very wrong. 

Though it takes a few minutes to warm up, “Wonka” manages both a lovely sense of sweetness and just the right undertones of chaos and danger. Chalamet captures exactly the right kind of madcap quality to make you believe his character grows into Wilder’s version, more innocent than the original but also deeply strange in a way that doesn’t seem quite human. King and co-screenwriter Simon Farnaby surround him in a world with exactly those same qualities, anchoring it all with a young woman who has more common sense than everyone else in the movie. It’s a worthy prequel to the 1971 original, and a magical adventure I didn’t even know I was waiting for. 

The movie follows Wonka in the days before he made a name for himself, when his only factory was the tiny one in his suitcase and the only Oompa Loompa the one following him around stealing chocolate. He heads to the big city to find customers, but when he runs into the local chocolate cartel and a villainous laundress what he finds instead is serious trouble. If he and his new friends can’t figure out a way to scheme faster than everyone else, both Wonka and his chocolate will be nothing more than a memory. 

The movie is considerably sweeter than the 1971 original, surrounding Wonka with a brave group of equally stranded souls who help him bring his candy dreams to life. The most delightful of these is Calah Lane’s Noodle, a young teen with a heaping helping of common sense who needs a little Wonka-style magic in her life. She and Chalamet are deeply entertaining together as friends and partners in crime, providing the movie with both a warm heart and several funny moments. 

There’s always just the right amount of wildness, though. Chalamet has flashes of that feral quality Wilder managed so well, chocolatey police corruption is a fairly significant subplot, and there’s an entertaining running joke about a character who does a terrible job of hinting about murder. Hugh Grant is entertainingly droll as the movie’s one Oompa Loompa, less Wonka’s sidekick than low-key nemesis. 

When this does finally come out on DVD, it’s going to go on my shelf right next to the 1971 original. They’re now a set in my head, and as far as I’m concerned there’s no higher compliment.  

Grade: Three and a half stars

Subscribe to the Morgan County News