Wonka Serves Up a Much Needed Dollop of Escapism and Charm

Wonka Umbrella ImageWith all that is happening in the world today, more and more people are looking towards cinema for a brief reprieve. Wonka is the perfect bit of escapism that audiences are looking for. It’s reminiscent of the family musicals made popular in the 1960s and 1970s like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Mary Poppins. It’s a welcome change to see and oh-so-wholesome. Just a warning, there are some small spoilers in this review (nothing that gives away the plot).

Wonka is “based on the extraordinary character at the center of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl’s most iconic children’s book and one of the best-selling children’s books of all time. Wonka tells the wondrous story of how the world’s greatest inventor, magician, and chocolate maker became the beloved Willy Wonka we know today. Willy Wonka – chock-full of ideas and determined to change the world one delectable bite at a time – is proof that the best things in life begin with a dream, and if you’re lucky enough to meet Willy Wonka, anything is possible.”

When I found out Paul King was directing Wonka, I knew immediately I was on board. His work on Paddington and Paddington 2 is some of my favorite in terms of family films from the last decade or so. He clearly has a grasp on making an audience feel warm and fuzzy. This combined with the cinematography of Jeong Jeong-hun (Oldboy, Last Night in Soho, It: Chapter One, and more) creates a treat to the senses. The film is visually awe-inspiring. A great example of this is during the “For a Moment” song number between Noodle and Willy, you get this feeling of a warm blanket of whimsy being wrapped around you. I will be singing “Noodle Strudel” for weeks.

WonkaSpeaking of the film’s music. Neil Hannon’s songs and Joby Talbot’s score for Wonka add to the magic of the film. I can see this soundtrack getting a lot of playtime. (As I write this, I’ve listened to it in its entirety 2-3 times this morning alone.) New songs like “Scrub Scrub” and “You’ve Never Had Chocolate Like This” are catchy and memorable. Timothee Chalamet’s rendition of “Pure Imagination” at the end of the film brought me to tears. I didn’t expect him to be as good of a singer as he is but he did well with the songs.

I realize most folks were skeptical about a less cynical Willy Wonka. I think the way this was handled in Wonka was perfect. Chalamet’s version of the titular character is optimistic and quirky but the audience is clued into the fact that he isn’t without some sorrow. The story shows that the world isn’t always saccharine-sweet. You can definitely see how this Willy can become the Willy we see in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Another story element I’ve seen criticism of is the ongoing joke of Keegan-Michael Key’s character getting heavier set as the film goes on due to eating the large amounts of chocolate he is being bribed with. While I don’t think the joke is necessary, I agree with folks who say it isn’t being done maliciously. It’s clearly a reference to Violet and Augustus in the original film. It makes sense in a film about food, to illustrate greed through gluttony. It feels more like an ACAB moment than a body-shaming one if I’m going to be honest. (This is also coming from someone who is themselves plus-sized.)

Overall, I think that Wonka can and will be a family classic for years to come. I’d love to see a film set between Wonka and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that sees Willy becoming more cynical but ends on a hopeful note with the idea for the Golden Ticket giveaway to find his successor. If you want to see my ranking of all of the films made about Willy Wonka, I created a list on Letterboxd, take a look and give me a follow there for reviews of things I don’t have time to post long-form reviews about! Wonka arrives in theaters on December 15th, 2023.

My Rating: 4/5

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