I’m not sure we needed another “Wonka” film reboot. Although, like with the chocolate itself, “needs” and “wants” are often confused. Paul King, the director of the adorable “Paddington” films, brings his whimsical touch to the Willy Wonka origin story. The world’s new favorite movie star, Timothee Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name,” “Dune”), sings professionally for the first time and dodges most of the film’s criticism with his charisma. This overly sweet, big-budget holiday movie has colors and discardable songs to pacify children yet offers little for adults. Instead of being a great film, it’s another genre exercise for Chalamet to showcase his range. The film’s over-reliance on visual effects instead of practical ones is at odds with the “humble beginnings” theme. After two hours in Wonka land, you have that same feeling when you have over-indulged in too many sweets.

An optimistic Willy Wonka (Chalamet) arrives in the chocolate capital of the world. The powerful Chocolate Cartel monopolized chocolate production and distribution and quickly dashed his dreams of creating chocolate and sweets for ordinary folk. Wonka has only a single silver sovereign and a hatful of dreams, quickly landing him in debt with the cunning Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Colman) and her boarding house after a single night. Fortunately for Wonka, young orphan Noodle (Calah Lane) is the eyes and ears of the place. The two partner up, and the locals get a sample of what real chocolate tastes like. Gluttonous Chief of Police (Keegan-Michael Key), bribed by the cartel with chocolate, will stop at nothing to see Wonka fail.

The irony of Chalamet’s now-viral high school skit performed for a statistics class (landing him a D grade), being the only audition King needed to cast him in Wonka, is the real rags to riches story. Chalamet continues to exude an onscreen quality that involuntarily has the audience rooting for his success, whether eating chocolate in Wonka or people in “Bones and All.” His talent, charisma, whatever you want to call it, is the main reason this film exists or isn’t a colossal failure. Colman, who isn’t doing press for the film and hardly features in the promotions, is a pitch-perfect cartoon villain, while Hugh Grant’s Oompa-Loompa doesn’t show up until mid-way, could have used a few more re-writes. Chalamet’s singing is more about talking with melody, which is fine until you hear breakout newcomer Calah Lane sing, and then you understand what a natural voice can do.

Something like Wonka would usually be an easy mainstream pick for the Golden Globes in their best comedy or musical category. While Chalamet landed a nod in the comedy/musical actor category (of course, they want him in attendance), he was the only nomination for the movie. As a musical, “Wonka” never carves out anything original with the numbers. For instance, one of the first songs, “Scrub Scrub,” is a retooled “Cell Block Tango” from “Chicago.” Yet it’s not about the music; it’s the whimsey and the feel-good vibes the film wants families to have after the credits. And for that demographic only, it’s a success.

Final Thought

Chalamet tips Wonka towards success over failure by a pinch.


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