Movie review: Timothee Chalamet captures 'Wonka' whimsy

Timothee Chalamet plays Willy Wonka in the prequel "Wonka." Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI
1 of 5 | Timothee Chalamet plays Willy Wonka in the prequel "Wonka." Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Wonka, in theaters Dec. 15, is a whimsical satire of capitalism. It leads nicely into the 1971 Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory with new music and candy confections.

After seven years at sea, Willy Wonka (Timothee Chalamet) arrives in the city with little money to his name, all of which he proceeds to lose. He is taken in by Mrs. Scrubitt (Olivia Colman) and Mr. Bleacher (Tom Davis) who trick him into working in their basement to pay off his debt to them.


Willy came to town to sell chocolate, his mother's (Sally Hawkins) secret recipe. He quickly runs afoul of town chocolatiers Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), Prodnose (Matt Lucas) and Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton) who go out of their way to eliminate the competition.


In the free market, WIlly's chocolate practically sells itself. It's infused with magic, with one variety that makes the eater fly, for example.

The chocolates are so beautiful they don't even look like candy. They look more like jeweled treasures.

So in this capitalist market, the three businesses resort to sabotage to keep Willy down. They even bribe the Chief (Keegan Michael-Key) to keep Willy off their turf.

Law enforcement is corrupt and sleazy opportunists like Scrubitt and Bleacher prey upon naifs like Willy who don't know better than to trust them. Otherwise, the villains couldn't compete purely on the merit of their business.

This is all the subtext of a lavish fantasy. Willy makes his chocolate in secret at night.

He meets other prisoners of Scrubitt including the orphan Noodle (Calah Lane), accountant Abacus Crunch (Jim Carter), plumber Piper (Natasha Rothwell), shy and quiet Lottie Belle (Rakhee Thakrar) and aspiring comedian Larry Chucklesworth (Rich Fulcher)

Willy gets closer and closer to owning his legendary chocolate factory as the film goes on. He begins with a portable chocolate making kit and eventually opens up a shop with a chocolate garden and carousel.

Of course, fans of the first adaptation of Roald Dahl's book know those magical elements will expand further once Willy becomes a chocolate magnate. An Oompa Loompa (Hugh Grant) does appear periodically, but often as a thorn in Willy's side.


The spirit of author Roald Dahl is alive in the the film. Willy approaches the hovel of Scrubbitt's hotel with a spirit of optimism. Tone shifts from complete innocence to cartoonish exacerbation and back seamlessly.

The musical numbers contribute a lot to that tone. Willy's introductory song begins as a solo and grows to include a gaggle of background dancers.

One musical number begins with two dancers in a restaurant, expands to include the whole wait staff and ultimately the whole town joins in.

The songs themselves are not particularly memorable or catchy. They fit the generic showtune archetypes, like a peppy introductory song or a sad ballad.

It's also stiff competition when two classics songs from the 1971 movie reprise. The Oompa Loompa song and "Pure Imagination" invite unfair comparison, but are a joy to hear re-arranged.

Wonka does justice to both Dahl and the Mel Stuart film starring Gene Wilder. It is the most whimsical movie of the holiday season.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.


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