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  • Writer's pictureLucas Friesen

Movie Review: Wonka

Wonka is a 2023 Warner Bros. movie directed by Paul King and starring Timothée Chalamet. King wrote the screenplay with Simon Farnaby, who also plays Basil in the movie. The original songs were created by Neil Hannon, while Joby Talbot provided the score. The movie had a budget of $125-million and has made $400-million at the box office.

It tells the origin story of Willy Wonka, the flamboyant chocolatier created by Roald Dahl and made infamous by Gene Wilder in the classic 1971 movie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Alongside Chalamet are Keegan-Michael Key as a villainous cop, Olivia Colman as a villainous laundress, Hugh Grant as a debt-collecting Oompa Loompa and Calah Lane as Noodle, Wonka’s friend.

The movie is light-hearted, family fun with a shallow conflict and countless clichés. Centred on the conniving exploits of the chocolate cartel, the conflict has an uninspired theme of hate toward a threatening proprietor. Why the cartel chooses to orchestrate Wonka’s death rather than, say, create a pawn out of their enemy is unknown. Wonka himself expresses his naïve trust in strangers, yet the cartel seems focused on the young man’s obliteration. Tired clichés abound in the movie, like the blueprint outline scene, the Nazi-esque woman guarding the cartel’s layer, and the dramatic climax for Wonka and Noodle. For a movie with so much colour and magic, there is a surprisingly small amount of originality.

There is some good humour but not as many laugh-out-loud moments as expected. The best gags come in the form of chocolate – from a confectionary that causes the eater to mimic a night on the town to one that turns the consumer into a yeti (in a scene that felt inspired by the Holiday Cheermeister debacle in How the Grinch Stole Christmas) to a chocolate that shows the silver lining in a bad situation. There is also the memorable gag of Key’s ever-expanding waistline.

However, outside of the waistline gag, Key is underutilized. Chalamet is good but his performance is nowhere near as powerful as in Call Me by Your Name or Beautiful Boy. He does shine in moments, like his first speech at the Galeries Gourmet and in the movie’s final resolution. Sally Hawkins, who plays Wonka’s mother, is another underutilized scene stealer, as is Rakhee Thakrar as Lottie Bell. Underutilizing good actors is the risk you take when creating an ensemble movie with over 20 speaking characters. Colman and Tom Davis get their fair share of screen time and their relationship is one of the movie’s hilarious highlights.

The songs were catchy, although some felt unnecessary. For example, in a scene where Wonka and Noodle interact with a giraffe, the scene seems to run its course only to have a song tacked on to the end. It does not further the story and feels aimless other than to meet some sort of song quota. Even if the songs were a bit excessive, they were still vibrantly sung by the capable cast. Notable numbers were “A Hatful of Dreams,” “Scrub Scrub” and “Oompa Loompa.”

The costumes were less inspired than expected, given the setting and budget. Most characters remain in the same outfits throughout and the costumes lack flair, with Wonka’s being the most captivating. The set design, however, was wonderful.

Wonka is a fine experience for those looking for light-hearted cinema. Visually, it’s engaging but underwhelming. The music is kind but excessive. The cast is filled with familiar faces but most actors don’t receive the screen time they deserve. Ultimately, it’s a forgettable piece of intellectual property exploitation that filled the studio’s need for a family-friendly holiday picture.

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