Film review: Wonka

Young Willy Wonka… Magician, inventor and chocolatier – dreams of opening the best confectionary shop in the world, but will the corrupt chocolate cartel stand in his way and stamp on his hopes and indeed his mother’s wishes?

With another hit from the Warner Bros studio, Simon Farnaby, the writer of the successful series ‘Ghosts’, and Paul King, director of ‘Paddington’ and the adored ‘Paddington 2’, comes a feast for the eyes and quite possibly the mind as we dive into Wonka’s first adventure. Set around 25 years before ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’, Willy is 22-years-old and almost penniless, with holes in his shoes and dreams possibly beyond even his imagination. Loosely based on the book written in 1964 by Roald Dahl, a man who famously wrote in a shed and requested for it never to be cleaned, the love of the character shines with an inner warmth and outer smile.

Sailing the seven seas for seven years and with a limited supply of stolen cocoa beans, Willy’s first day in this fictitious land quickly deprives him of his last hard earned silver coins faster than he can think. Filmed in Bath in the autumn of 2021, but made to look like a cross between London, Paris and Prague, the beautiful sets and dance routines are the most dazzling amongst the ‘Gallery Gourmet’, where even daydreaming is costly. Willy has set his sights on his first shop that seems to have taken inspiration from Milan’s beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II, the oldest and most glamorous shopping centre in the world.

With the current trend for an all-star cast, we are delivered class leading performances at every turn from Olivia Colman and Tom Davis as the Roald Dahl’s wicked larger than life parental type figures of Scrubit and Bleacher, the boarding house thieves. Hugh Grant plays the witty pint sized Lofty, an ostracised Oompa Loompa bent on retrieving the last of the stolen cocoa beans and regain his life back in his far-off Loompaland. Through to – but not limited to – Peter Joseph, Matt Lucas and Mathew Bayton as Slugworth, Prodnose and Fickelgruber respectively as the hilarious over the top carteliers, a characterisation being taken from the three evil farmers, another Dahl tall tail of the adored Fantastic Mr Fox.

 

The story is interwoven with many references similar to other of Dahl’s films such as the wonderful Matilda for the ungrateful parents and casting similarities such as Sally Hawkins as Willy’s late mother, to the magic of the not so far away other world of the marvellous Mary Poppins Returns. Yet the need for wanting to watch this more than twice for me was somewhat limited. With all origin stories comes the need for the goal to be reached and with Wonka, that comes far too late into the film and for too brief a period to have the feel of a great payoff yet still the ride along the way is filled with treats that keep the story magical and moving.

Bringing in professional chocolatiers to create the edible delights on set, the actors reactions had to be turned down as the taste was well beyond their expectations. Including ‘Hover chocs’ to help one fly, ‘Broadway’ chocs to turn each day into a Broadway show and ‘Silver linings’ chocolate made of condensed thunderclouds and liquid sunlight to provide inspiration in dark situations. (your hopes, dreams and outcomes may be different to those illustrated here)

Timothee Chalamet as our star cast with a Calah Lane as the orphan Noodle, – who is comparatively new to the world of film – shines brightly in this sometimes purposefully dreary underground world of boarding and bedlinen as she guides our illiterate hero towards his dreams and desires whilst preventing him from being eaten by a tiger and captured by corrupt police chief officer Keegan-Michael Key who is quickly gaining weight through ill-gotten chocolate payoffs by the cartel.

The overall general desire for a second film points towards wanting more from Hugh Grant’s hilarious character and more colour of the chocolate factory that was all too limited here, though may be that was the ultimate desire with the ‘arrive late – leave early feel’ of storytelling and is this case the heroes journey.

The spectacular dance routines weave their way through the mostly original score with seven new tracks and incidentals written mostly by frontman Neil Hannon of Divine Comedy plus a couple of adapted originals. There are no ear worms to leave one with, but the overall feel is that of positivity and a need for more. The hunger for more of Willy’s magical chocolatey adventures is most definitely there, so bring on the hope that in 2025 the next chocolate bars of movie and music magically appear.

 

 

 

 

Author: Piers, Maidstone Store

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