Review: Timothée Chalamet's Wonka is splendiferous
Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination...
Once experienced, it is impossible to forget the absolute magic that was 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory – particularly the stunning titular turn of the late, great Gene Wilder.
Arguably Roald Dahl’s most famous character, eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka was brought to life by Wilder in such sublime fashion that the two names were inseparable for decades.
Ironically, the magic of Wilder’s take on Wonka was only lost on Dahl himself, who reportedly described the film as “rather crummy”!
But for most us, the performance was quickly considered hallowed, and, indeed, it wasn’t until 2005 when another big name would dare to take the part on.
Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the fabled inventor of the Everlasting Gobstopper in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was disturbing, and while it was delivered with skill there was an undertone that prevented a sparkle matching Wilder’s Wonka from coming to the fore. Yet, this was not to be the last we would see of the character.
Eighteen years since Depp donned the iconic top hat, and 52 since Wilder before him, a rather talented young man is now taking the keys to the proverbial candy store. Star of the stunning Beautiful Boy and the hero of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune franchise, Timothée Chalamet possesses a Midas touch doubtlessly coveted by every actor of his generation, and a talent that, in terms of his contemporaries, is almost beyond compare.
But does the mighty Tim have what it takes to be the golden ticket in director Paul King’s much-anticipated Wonka prequel? Well folks, the wait is over. Let’s begin with a spin, and travel in the world of King’s creation...
As someone with a recently discovered sweet tooth, writer-director Paul King’s soft-centred musical comedy based on characters created for Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is my current idea of a lip-smacking treat.
Sugar syrup in a symphony of colours is drizzled over every feelgood frame, hand-stirred at a similar temperature to King’s big screen adventures with Paddington Bear and lavishly decorated with the blessing of Roald Dahl’s estate (the author’s grandson, Luke Kelly, is one of the producers).
King and co-writer Simon Farnaby combine scrumdiddlyumptious ingredients from Dahl’s books including macabre humour and characters with vividly descriptive names (Jim Carter’s accountant Abacus Crunch is a doozy), with nostalgic references to the phizz-whizzing 1971 musical comedy starring Gene Wilder as the quixotic candy man.
Look closely and you’ll spot edible tea cups, hover-chocs that render similar side effects to fizzy lifting drinks, the silver whistle used by Willy to summon Oompa-Loompas, Willy’s familiar attempts at self-correction (“Scratch that, reverse it!” burbles the younger Wonka) plus a heartfelt rendition of Pure Imagination composed by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.
Timothee Chalamet exudes an undimmable childlike ebullience in the title role that harmonises perfectly with barn-storming song and dance numbers choreographed by Christopher Gattelli and mouth-watering production design and costumes.
Thankfully for Hugh Grant’s scene-stealing turn as an Oompa-Loompa, who proudly claims to be “something of a whopper” in Loompaland, there isn’t a Snozzwanger in sight to spoil the candy-coloured party.
As a young boy, Willy Wonka (Chalamet) nurtures a reverence for lovingly handmade chocolate from his mother (Sally Hawkins), who scrimps to buy ingredients for one bar of the silky confection.
When she passes away, Willy pursues his dream of opening a chocolate shop at the Galeries Gourmet, a glittering arcade where confectionery titans Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton) and Prodnose (Matt Lucas) already have high-end boutiques.
Alas, the entrepreneurs have formed a secret chocolate cartel and bribe the Chief of Police (Keegan-Michael Key) to thwart Willy’s wholesome ambitions.
Young Wonka falls into the clutches of villainous Mrs Scrubbit (Olivia Colman) and her sidekick Bleacher (Tom Davis).
“The greedy beat the needy every time,” laments orphan Noodle (Calah Lane), one of Mrs Scrubbit’s other victims, who assists Willy in a daredevil plan to access a secret vault guarded by corrupt cleric Father Julius (Rowan Atkinson) and a brotherhood of chocaholic monks.
Wonka bypasses Johnny Depp’s wild theatrics and repeatedly doffs its hat to Wilder’s charming eccentricity.
Neil Hannon, front man of pop band The Divine Comedy, provides original songs that fizz pleasantly in the short-term memory.
Admittedly, plotting is the least flavourful element of King’s confection and a set piece with a rampaging computer-generated giraffe over-extends, but in other respects, this fantastical origin story is splendiferous.