Film Review: Wonka, like his chocolate, is a sweet, delicious treat

There’s something rather ironic in Paul King‘s Wonka being deliciously, inoffensively sweet, given that the character at its core has done plenty to unnerve (however slightly) young audiences across the near six decades of his existence.

As written by Roald Dahl in 1964’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and then brought to life by the incomparable Gene Wilder in the 1971 adaptation Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, both mediums had their share of questionable content; I mean, we can all agree it seems like children pretty much died in the chocolate factory, right?

Tim Burton’s 2005 remake added a little extra fright to proceedings, with Johnny Depp’s off-kilter turn and the presence of Christopher Lee, which always seems like enough for a caution warning.

But if a chocolatiered candyman can take a rainbow and sprinkle it with dew, then the director of such wholesome heartwarmers as Paddington and its sequel can make a Willy Wonka origin story inherently delightful and entirely void of any nightmarish ingredients.

Understandably modelling his musical take – yes, this is a full-blown, show-tuned ready musical – on the wholesome Paddington blueprint, King’s Wonka feels like something out of a Charles Dickens novel, replacing any of the macabre mentality from Wilder and Depp with a dollop of grief as Timothée Chalamet inhabits the candyman, ready to take on the big city with his even bigger dreams.

As to be expected, Wonka’s dreams of becoming a famous chocolatier aren’t going to be realised without  some interruption, and much like Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant proved campy villain-types in their respective Paddington films, King and screenwriter Simon Farnaby have assembled a comical array of proven talent to stand in the hatted dreamer’s way.  Whether it’s Olivia Colman and a standout Tom Davis as smarmy landlords, Rowan Atkinson as a corrupt priest, Keegan-Michael Key as an easily bribed police constable (his love of chocolate comically altering his appearance throughout), or the ridiculous trio of Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas and Mathew Baynton as the chocolate cartel, Wonka has his farcical work cut out for him.

Speaking of one Hugh Grant, he comes close to stealing the entire movie with his turn as an Oompa Loompa, the orange-skinned, green-haired collective who, as we know, end up working under Wonka at his eventual factory.  Here, their relationship is a little rocky, with the Oompa Loompa having made himself known to Wonka through reputation alone for stealing his chocolate.  He’s vengeful, but not villainous, and he puts on one helluva show (as you’d expect), with his song-and-dance number proving one of the film’s brightest, and funniest, moments.

On the mention of the music, some may be unprepared for such inclusions, and whilst the trailers haven’t exactly alluded to the film’s musical temperament, the fact that the original was a musical – and to an extent, Burton’s remake – should see audiences accept with open arms, eyes and ears; Chalamet’s pipes may not be the strongest, but he has a sweet tone and a charming disposition that fits with the film’s overall aesthetic.

Ultimately, Wonka is just that – sweet and charming.  It doesn’t reach the heights of either Paddington, but King easily creates a similar feeling of warmth and whimsy across its 116 minutes.  One of those rare examples of filmmaking that truly caters to audiences of all ages, Wonka is the one serving of sweetness that we can say is good for your health.


Wonka is screening in Australian theatres from December 14th, 2023.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.