WONKA (2023)

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Director: Paul King
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Calah Lane, Keegan-Michael Key, Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas, Mathew Baynton, Sally Hawkins, Rowan Atkinson, Jim Carter, Natasha Rothwell, Rich Fulcher, Rakhee Thakrar, Tom Davis, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Olivia Colman, Hugh Grant 
Runtime: 1 hr 56 mins
Rating: PG
Released By: Warner Bros
Official Website: www.wonka.com.sg

Opening Day: 6 December 2023

Synopsis: 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. This irresistibly vivid and inventive big screen spectacle will introduce audiences to a young Willy Wonka, chock-full of ideas and determined to change the world one delectable bite at a time—proving that the best things in life begin with a dream, and if you’re lucky enough to meet Willy Wonka, anything is possible.

Movie Review:

Depending on whether you like your chocolate sweet or dark, you will either find ‘Wonka’ utterly delightful or too one-note saccharine.

Though billed as a prequel to Tim Burton’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, ‘Wonka’ is probably closer in spirit and tone to the earlier Gene Wilder classic ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. That is because it hails from Paul King, who demonstrated in ‘Paddington’ and ‘Paddington 2’ that his brand of family film is inherently sweet, with just a dash of melancholy to give it a darker edge.

Co-writing with Simon Farnaby, King tells the origin story of how a young man arrives after a seven-year voyage to his dream city to open his own chocolate shop. Through a slowed-down, tinkly version of ‘Pure Imagination’, King introduces Wonka (Timothee Chalamet) as an idealistic, optimistic and even slightly unrealistic man who quickly falls into trouble due to his naivety.

Not only does he accept a dubious offer of accommodation by a ghoulish innkeeper Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Colman) and her oafish partner-in-crime Bleacher (Tom Davis) that lands him being tricked into servitude in her lodging’s laundry room, Wonka also gets into the crosshairs of a nefarious chocolate cartel run by Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton) and Prodnose (Matt Lucas), who have the sweet-toothed chief-of-police (Keegan-Michael Key) in their pocket.

Yet Wonka finds an unexpected band of allies in the fellow victims of Mrs. Scrubbit, including Abacus (Jim Carter), Larry (Rich Fulcher), Piper (Natasha Rothwell), and Lottie (Rakhee Thakrar), as well as young Noodle (Calah Lane). In particular, it is Noodle whom Wonka will form a deep, poignant connection with, as they both come to terms with trying to reconnect with a long-lost parent. It is also Noodle who first believes in Wonka and helps him escape during the day to peddle his wares, despite the initial scepticism from the rest before eventually becoming his co-conspirators.

It is a lively, diverse ensemble, and King puts them to good use in a string of lovely song-and-dance numbers that expand from the confines of Mrs. Scrubitt’s inn (‘Welcome to Scrubbit’s’, ‘Scrub Scrub’) to the fondant-like city (‘For a Moment’, ‘You’ve Never Had Chocolate Like This’). Whereas Burton never fully committed to the idea of a musical, King goes all in from start to finish, trusting The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon to carry the story through song as well as his actors to give their theatrical best in front of the camera.

Both – we are happy to report – deliver splendidly. Each of the numbers is engaging and likeable; of them, our favourites were Chalamet and Lane’s duet ‘For A Moment’ as they sneak into a zoo to milk a giraffe for Wonka to make his chocolates, and the all-star ‘A World of Your Own’ to commemorate the opening of Wonka’s chocolate shop. Chalamet may not hold a Broadway voice, but he brings spiritedness to each and every line of his baritone. Ditto for Lane, whom though a newcomer, knows just how to complement Chalamet’s exuberance with winning disaffection.

Oh yes, there is plenty of ingenuity to admire in King’s confection. One off-the-wall idea is how the cartel’s headquarters is located below the town cathedral, run by a corrupt cleric (Rowan Atkinson) and 500 chocoholic monks. Another has Wonka being pursued by an Oompa Loompa named Lofty (Hugh Grant), who was cast out from his community after falling asleep while guarding the island’s precious orange cocoa beans that Wonka had stolen. With ‘Wonka’, King once again proves himself a masterful creator of imaginary worlds, meticulously stuffed full of visual gags and character designs to immerse you in his make-believe.

So even though it may downplay the titular character’s darker impulses that readers of Roald Dahl’s books would be familiar with, ‘Wonka’ is in our opinion an utterly wonderful Christmas-time confectionery for the whole family. King goes for a whimsical musical bursting with delight and detail, and grounds it with a sweet melancholy that will melt your heart by the time Wonka finds out what the secret to his late mother’s chocolate is. Like a ‘hoverchoc’, 'Wonka' will lift your spirits up with King's signature blend of efferverscence, warmth and heartfelt tenderness.

Movie Rating:

(Bursting with delight and detail, 'Wonka' is a wonderful Christmas confection, wrapped with joy, heart and tenderness)

Review by Gabriel Chong


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