Timothée Chalamet stars as a wide-eyed Willy Wonka in this origin story about the eccentric confectioner created by Roald Dahl in the classic children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s a performance imbued with a warm naivety in comparison to Gene Wilder’s memorably energetic lunacy as seen in the beloved 1971 classic film directed by Mel Stuart.
Written and directed by Paul King and Simon Farnaby (the team who adapted the wholesome Paddington films) the pair have crafted an enjoyably sweet musical about changing the world with a Dickensian edge that also reflects the greed and corruption of current times.
Wonka enters the fancy-pants world of chocolate-making dominated by a trio of powerful men (played by Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas and Mathew Baynton) who dictate the market and are furious that his inventiveness puts their efforts to shame.
At the same time, Wonka has accidentally signed his life over to scheming hoteliers Scrubbit (Olivia Colman) and Bleacher (Tom Davis) and is trapped to serve out the rest of his life there along with Abacus Crunch (Jim Carter), Lottie Bell (Rakhee Thakrar), Piper Benz (Natasha Rothwell), Larry Chucklesworth (Rich Fulcher) and young orphan Noodle (Calah Lane) who he strikes up a beautiful friendship with as she teaches him how to read. Hugh Grant is wickedly funny as an Oompa-Loompa seeking reparations and Keegan-Michael Key’s comic delivery as Chief of Police is spot on.
The world-building is eye-catching and the candy creations, including one that offers a silver lining in dark times, is particularly nicely revealed. The new original songs by Neil Hannon aren’t as magical as something like ‘Pure Imagination’ but they are catchy and occasionally tear-jerking in the moment.
Overall Wonka is a heartening and amusing family film about originality, community and integrity disrupting the status quo that offers a similar charm to the Paddington films, even if it doesn’t quite match their quality.
Wonka will be in cinemas on 8 December.