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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Wonka: Review



A new Willy Wonka feature should provide a sugary sweet delight for moviegoers. Author Roald Dahl created one of pop culture’s most ubiquitous characters with Wonka. He’s a man bursting with eccentric flourishes, from his colorfully kooky clothing to the pie-in-the-sky candy creations he manifests from his vast imagination. However, beneath the character’s maddeningly esoteric worldview lies a force earnest to all of us — the mindset of a wistful dreamer who always sees the positivity and limitless potential in the world around him.


I grew up idolizing 1971’s classic “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” with Gene Wilder’s scene-stealing performance encapsulating the character’s fascinating dimensions onscreen. I even enjoyed Tim Burton’s gothic and obtuse remake “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Burton surfs his own creative wavelength, drawing Willy Wonka in a distorted light as a secluded man-child escaping real-world realities through his fantastical chocolatier existence. I know the film was not for everyone, but I appreciate its ability to deconstruct the character through an invigorating new prism.


By comparison, “Wonka” left me with a bitter aftertaste. While the two proceeding films veered down diverse creative avenues, “Wonka” resonates with the stale aroma of another expired Hollywood remake.


Your engagement with “Wonka,” a family-friendly musical designed as a Willy Wonka origin story (because studios think every character needs an origin story for some reason), will depend primarily on your feelings toward star Timothée Chalamet’s central performance. Chalamet has earned the Hollywood heartthrob distinction through his transfixing screen presence, often transforming insular outcasts into fully realized characters (“Call Me By Your Name” and “Bones and All” rank as his best work to date).


As Wonka, Chalamet comes across as woefully miscast to me. The actor sincerely projects the eccentricities that mold Wonka’s larger-than-life personality, yet his good intentions do not equate to an arresting performance here. Much of Chalamet’s delivery feels strained and overwrought. He overprojects and tries so hard to conjure zany energy that it ends up sinking the character into mawkishly insincere territory. I never felt that there was a genuine person behind Wonka’s exuberant energy despite several cloyingly emotional beats trying to convince me otherwise. It does not help that Chalamet lacks vocal skills. His musical numbers feature Kids Bop-esque auto-tune in heavy doses to compensate for his flat delivery.


In Chalamet’s defense, “Wonka” struggles to set the actor up for success. The prequel/origin premise lacks ingenuity from writers Paul King and Simon Farnaby. They seem more interested in plugging away pandering references to Wonka lore rather than establishing a bold new vision for the character. Worst of all, “Wonka” conjures no sweet sentiments. Forced attempts at moving moments and several lame-duck bits, including a running fat joke that is needlessly mean-spirited, overwhelm what could have been a charming story of an outcast discovering his makeshift family. This is particularly disappointing coming from King, the mastermind behind the exemplary “Paddington” films. All the warmth and whimsy those films possessed feel noticeably absent here.


I had high hopes for “Wonka.” Unfortunately, the wayward final product delivers a sluggish Slugworth ripoff of a character we all know and love. If only a catchy Oompa-Loompa song existed to warn audiences of the sour experience that awaits them with this rancid reboot.

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