'Wonka' captures the magic of childhood in this adventure oozing with sincerity and charm.
By CHIN JIAN WEI
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was one of this writer’s first-ever books. Even after all these years, the whimsy and wonder of Roald Dahl’s children’s fiction still remains in memory. The latest movie from director Paul King of the “Paddington” films somehow manages to mostly capture this sense of childlike wonder, creating a world where chocolates can make a man fly and dreams can come true.
Timothée Chalamet stars as the titular Willy Wonka, aspiring chocolate maker, not yet the confectionary wizard he would later become in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In this movie, Wonka is still a fresh-faced young entrepreneur looking to start his chocolate business in the prestigious Galeries Gourmet. However, misfortune after misfortune befalls him as the “Chocolate Cartel”, wealthy chocolatiers, bribe the police into putting a halt to his fledgling business. Worse, Wonka also falls prey to the predatory schemes of Mrs. Scrubitt and her henchman Bleacher, becoming a prisoner in their motel, doomed to do their laundry for 10,000 days.
While working in the motel laundromat, Wonka befriends his fellow prisoners, a diverse cast of characters including ex-telephone operators, comedians, and accountants. His closest friend is Noodle (played by Calah Lane), a young orphan who is inspired by Wonka to help him pursue his dreams and break free of their predicament. Hugh Grant is also great as the Oompa-Loompa who raids Wonka’s chocolate stash to reclaim the debt he believes Wonka owes him, and later becomes an unlikely ally of Wonka’s as well.
Wonka is a classic example of a children’s movie done right. Chalamet’s Wonka is naive without seeming stupid, and is charming while remaining sincere. He talks big without seeming boastful because he genuinely can back up his claims. He is a dreamer so optimistic and confident that it rubs off on the cynics around him and he genuinely makes the lives of those around him better. This movie would not have succeeded if it weren’t for the sincerity Chalamet brings to the role.
The villains of the story are also very memorable; classic moustache-twirling baddies that are motivated solely by greed. Sometimes, the simplest villains can also be the best, especially in children’s movies. They represent corporate greed and soullessness clashing against Wonka’s optimism and ability to dream of something better. Each of the three CEOs who form the Chocolate Cartel bring their own unique flavour of cartoon villainy. You can tell the three actors, Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas, and Mathew Baynton are having a lot of fun.
Just as fun is the bumbling police chief that aids them, played by comedian Keegan-Michael Key of Key and Peele fame. Easily bribed by chocolate to the point of gaining a hilarious amount of weight in the course of the story, Key’s character is probably the comedic standout of the movie. Legendary comedic actor Rowan Atkinson also has a minor role as a corrupt priest, Father Julius, who, just like the police chief, is bought in chocolate by the Chocolate Cartel. Best of all, the jokes appeal to a young audience while also remaining appreciable by parents and older siblings, never stepping into lowbrow or crass humour.
This movie does not seek to break new ground and features classic tropes and moral lessons such as never giving up on your dreams and trusting in your friends. However, it executes these themes as well as any of your childhood favourites. If I had seen this movie in childhood, it would also have likely become one of my fondest cinematic memories. The magic of Dahl’s fantasy writing lives on in King’s work.
Catch Wonka at a cinema near you, out now!
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